Editing Encouragement

Editing is never an easy process, so I thought I’d share some tips. If you're anything like me, you're always trying to whip one MS or another into tip-top writing shape. 

Supply list: Get together your printed MS, notebook, highlighter 

My own process:
It's different for everyone, but here's how I go about it.
  • I do a first draft, often re-reading sections and editing as I go (Draft one).
  • I set it aside for about a month, then go back in and smooth everything out. At this stage, I read it through chapter-by-chapter, and jot down areas I want to improve, questions, etc.
  • Then, I share it with my crit group (We do 20 pages/week, so I also edit each section again prior to submitting it for critique).
  • I do another draft that incorporates any appropriate edits from the crit group (Draft 2).
  • Let it sit for about two months and work on other stories.
  • I go back through it again, mostly focused on tightening (Draft 3).
  • I send it out for another beta read among a small group of critters who have never seen it before.
  • By the time I get it back, about 4 months – I read through it again for a final edit (Draft 4).

Be patient: It’ll take several drafts to get it right, and it should. You change, your perspective on your WIP changes. 

Layer it: Trying to edit the entire manuscript at once can be overwhelming. Edit in layers, focusing on one thing at a time (by chapter or the entire book) so you can focus and not get distracted.

More advice and encouragement: The woman who owns my local writing studio likes to say, “The second draft grows…because you’re adding information you’ve now realized you need, worldbuilding, character details, add’l scenes to fix plot holes, etc. The third draft begins to shrink…because you now have all the info you need, and you’re just focused on presenting it at its very best, in powerful, streamlined language.”

Good luck everyone!


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only person struggling with editing. Your dotpoints are making it look lots more achievable, though. Thanks!
    By the way, do you have any suggestions on where to find a crit group?

    1. Alice - Glad to help. My local crit group (which I love) is the second link in my "Writing Links" section of the sidebar. That studio also has online options. Plus, many wonderful blogs and forums have crit spots too. Sometimes the ladies at Falling for Fiction have a crit partner match-up. Good luck!

  2. Didn't mean to vote twice, but it came up with the third option the first time although I clicked the fourth.

    Great advice! The first time I read through, I make a list of things I need to add on or expand, now I know the whole story (being a pantser!) So, similar to what your crit leader was saying.

    Definitely helpful to focus on one thing at a time. Structuring it into chapters is another thing I have to do after beginning editing, because when I write the first draft it's one big block. After, I can see how the story flows, so I can decide where the chapter breaks should come.

    1. Yup, I definitely follow a similar approach re: writing down items I need to add or refine.

  3. one is w/editor
    one is w/2 cp's
    one is being outlined...

    like your layering process!
    the only diff i have is the first draft, no editing the first draft for me, thats why i like nano =)

  4. I see people who use color coded stickies to edit with too. I don't do it, but I can see how it might help to use a different color marker to indicate different types of editing changes that need to be made. Like red = word choice, yellow = plot hole. I really don't know how they do it, but it is hard to keep track of everything that needs fixing sometimes, and that would be one way to organize it all. :)

  5. Excellent editing tips, thanks for sharing. I struggle with editing, so I will try to use these tips in the future.

  6. I'm editing too, Nicole! What a great idea to edit in layers. Taking the task in small chunks can help us stay motivated and get the revision done more quickly. Right now I'm going chapter by chapter to make sure I catch everything.

  7. Great process, it's awesome to be so through, and my only caution (to people like me who always looks for the next great idea) is not to linger. I found a crit group that does full MS's at a time which works well for me so I'm dragging it out. Good luck editing!

  8. Great suggestions. Your process sounds a lot more efficient than mine. I think I'm going to use it for my next work.

  9. Fantastic tips! I often add a re-reading section between first draft and second draft, so I can get a feel for the story again before I dive in to make changes. And I completely agree in taking some time away from the project too. I've caught so many more things when I come back to it months later.

  10. Tara - I try to limit my inner editing to just jotting notes during the first draft, so I can keep writing and fix it later. ;)

    L.G. - Oh, I love the color-coding idea. I did that a little bit with highlighters in one of my rounds.

    Clare - Glad you found it helpful.

    Julie - A little bit at a time definitely helps.

    J.A. - Yes! Good critters are a must to push us from "editing" to "querying." :)

    Jenn - Hope it helps you out!

    Cherie - Good idea to do the re-read.

  11. What a fun post. I loved the poll, too! I more or less follow the same steps, though I mostly write short stories. Now I'm 1/3 into my first full-length novel, so I'll let you know how it went. I like that saying about the second draft growing and the third one actually trimming. Thanks for the advice!

  12. I am so careful with my wording the first time through, it takes me forever to create the first draft. I don't let it rest though, because by the time I reach the end, I've forgotten the beginning.

  13. I have quite a few rounds of editing myself, and I'm finally on the final round for my second book, which is quite the relief (actually it will be a relief in a few weeks...haha). The quote is great!

  14. So spot on, Nicole. This is great. Seriously, time away from your project is the BEST editing tool ever. Seems like you've got a perfect system!

  15. That's a great process, Nicole! It's a lot like my own. :)

  16. Excellent process. Time and layers--a winning combination.

    Nice post!

  17. Gina - Glad you enjoyed it, and congrats on tackling that first novel.

    Alex - I know that feeling of going back to the beginning and remembering, "Oh yeah, that's what happened there..." :)

    Michael - Good luck cranking out those last few edits!

    Morgan - It's amazing what a little perspective can do after you haven't seen the story for a while.

    Ali - Thanks!

    LB - It is quite the duo. Thanks.

  18. Fantastic post. You're a very thorough and organized reviser.