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Editing a Novel - any tips???

So the novel editing is again getting a bit overwhelming. Yes it's moving slowly forward but I do find myself wondering if it will ever end or if I'm just going round in circles. 

Any tips for managing a novel-sized edit? How do you keep going without getting overwhelmed?

(Unfortunately I do have a tendency for getting unnecessarily overwhelmed by these things everything, so this is perhaps more of a 'me' problem than a 'writer' problem)


  • What's your editing process?
  • I choose one area to concentrate on at a time. For example, to make sure I haven't missed any closing speech marks, I'll type a speech mark into the Find box so that every bit of dialogue is highlighted. I'll go through and just look at that. Or I will type in every question word (What/How/Where... etc.) to find them in the document so that I can ensure the question mark hasn't been omitted anywhere.

    On another occasion, I might type in a word such as 'Suddenly', for example, to make sure I haven't overused it. Or just -ly to find all the adverbs. Then I will try to remove most and substitute a more powerful verb instead.

    Then there are things like time clauses - e.g. 'a week later'. I'll look for those and check for a comma.

    If you've changed a character's name, type in each version and find those.

    For spacing, I use the back to front 'P' which shows spaces as individual dots. It makes it easier to find places where you might have inadvertently double spaced.

    For continuity, or clues which you want to pepper throughout, I will use red text or highlight passages and until I'm happy that I have covered everything to do with that plot point, I will leave the colours in place. I also write notes in red if I feel something needs to be returned to or explained.

    I also re-read a lot! Reading aloud is quite important to hear the flow, and, also, you might pick up a word which you have used more than once in a paragraph. 

    So, basically, break it all down into individual elements and work at one at a time. I find it's a really thorough approach.
  • edited November 2019
    Oh, and sometimes I make time charts with days of the week to work out what happened on which day. Keep in mind continuity with seasons, as well.

    I also have a notebook where I sum up each chapter with just a line or two for quick reference.

    Hope that helps!
  • Top tips from Tiny Nell. I do a lot of those. In fact, I'm editing a book right now. Additional pointers:

    Check character voices for consistency. In my experience, they always change as the novel grows. Read through the novel but only the dialogue or thoughts of a given character to ensure that they seem the same (or change gradually) throughout. Pay attention to the major movements of their arc and flesh out or delete where necessary.

    If you have a thematic arc, take note of where and how your theme develops. Reinforce or prune it accordingly. One of the themes in my my current work is "waiting" so I'll be revisiting each passage where I deal with that to make sure it develops into something interesting.

    There are a few words I thought I might be overusing as I wrote the book, so I made a note of them as I was going. I'll check later if there are too many and replace them with something synonymous.

    For me, the most important aspect is that the book will withstand a publisher's copy edit without major change. That means the story, pace and narrative development are all solid and that the ending is fitting with what precedes it. I know a professional proofreader will find the things I've missed.

    Standard practice is to print the work out and look at it again after a while.

  • Emma B doesn't mention her own system but there are good suggestions here.  I do some of the things mentioned, especially the coloured highlighting one.  The key is to do several edits, not necessarily with a view to anything specific, and you'll pick up something new each time.  The practice of leaving a complete draft alone for a while is essential as, when you return to it, you see more clearly what's wrong with it.

    One of the ways you can cut down on editing somewhat is to correct as you go along in the first draft, rather than thinking "That's not right but I'll deal with it later".  I find I do five or six edits, including that, although the last one is usually minor tweaking.

    I believe it's possible to over-edit, though, destroying the life of the novel.  This could be done with too much concern for what the publisher or agent will like.
  • Some great tips here. I'm going to copy and paste them into my 'writing tips' folder for future reference! :)
  • Two things I always do:

    1. When a draft is finished - leave it for at least a week, don't read it don't add to it - leave it alone do something else. When you come back to it, it will be fresh, then before you do anything else -
    2. Print it out (yes i know it's not environmentally friendly but it looks totally different on the page that it does on the screen and you have the advantage of being able to make notes in the margins etc.
  • I've seen a few writers who send their manuscript to their e-reader as it helps them pick up editing areas better.
  • I can't speak for editing of novels, but I always print off hard copies of my short stuff for editing purposes - when I'm at home with easy access to a printer at any rate.
  • edited November 2019
    A professional editor's assessment of an ms is revealing sometimes. Send a chapter to test his/her ability.   
  • A professional editor's assessment of an ms is revealing sometimes. Send a chapter to test his/her ability.   
    Right, but it depends if you're looking for a critique or a proofing. Many editors won't find and correct every mistake for you. I know I don't. I can't guarantee 100% error-free results, even in my own work. As an editor, all I can promise is that I'll give advice you probably wouldn't have got anywhere else.
  • Thank you so much all, this stuff is really helpful. My biggest issue has been that I felt like I haven't had much of a system! As a result I've felt like I've been wading through mud!
    At the moment I'm compiling a scene list (which I should have done already) and that will give me a much better overview as to where I need an additional scene or there are inconsistencies 

    TinyNell - love your tips for finding overused words etc!
    GeraldQ - your points about character voice consistency are also really helpful
  • I'm feeling exactly like you! I have found two books that have helped me organise my thoughts in some respect:
    "Edit is a Four-Letter Word" by Glynis Scrivens
    "Revising Your Novel" by Janice Hardy

    These two books have helped me have some sort of plan. I still feel overwhelmed though! But progress, not perfection.

    I am hoping your first draft is written better than mine, which just reads like a massive outline with dialogue!

    I much prefer stories less than 2000 words.

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