Not Quite As Easy As 1, 2, 3

Ah, the editing process. That wonderful, awful stage that begins after you first type “The End,” and lasts until long after your sanity deserts you. When you’re re-reading a page for the 5,000th time (and you memorized it after 200), it is so very, very tempting to stop editing and query too early.

“How good is good enough?” you wonder. “I think it’s perfect. Surely, agents and publishers will, too!”

If only it were that simple.

I’ve been thinking about my own writing and editing process lately, and here’s how I’d break it down. Even if you don’t buy into the exact methods, I think it’s helpful to keep each of these perspectives in mind as you edit.

Draft 1*: It’s all about YOU
This is what we call the throw-up draft at my local writing studio. The first, frenzied, “get-it-all-out-on-page” effort, whose main purpose is to organize your thoughts and make sure they wind up on paper. This initial draft is about YOU: your ideas, your writing tics and mistakes, your favorite turns of phrase. And that’s okay at this point. Write, little author, write! The biggest challenge here is finishing the story.

Draft 2: It’s all about YOUR CHARACTERS
Okay, you’ve vomited your glorious story all over the page in Draft 1. Congrats! Take a deep breath, enjoy a glass of wine and then buck up, because from this point forward, it’s NOT about you.

In the second draft, concentrate on honing your characters and your plot until they shine. Remember all your favorite phrases from Draft 1? Well, they won’t be surviving the cut now unless they are absolutely something your character would actually say. This is the draft where you become invisible – we shouldn’t see you, as the author, anywhere, except in the miraculous visage and voice of your characters.

This is really tough. We want to hang onto that initial version, the one that first tumbled from our hearts, but c’mon, you owe your characters and your story more than that! Make them their very best in this draft.

Draft 3: It’s all about THE READER
You now have the most amazing cast of characters and most tightly twisting plot in the world. But we’re not done yet! This last one is often the most important draft of all. Why? Because it focuses on your readers, the people who will actually buy your book, love your book, sleep with it under their pillows and tell their friends about it.

Set your novel aside for a few months so you can read it with fresh eyes and immerse yourself as a reader. Then, evaluate it like any other book you’re reading. Does the writing flow? Does it pull you in? Is that line of dialogue truly funny or just forced?

Anything, and I mean anything, that gives you pause or pulls you out of the story must be changed! Because, chances are, if it stops you, it’ll stop your readers.

After you drag yourself back to the drawing board to correct all those little (or not so little) edits, read it again. Ask the same questions. Make additional edits.

Read it again.

No, I’m not kidding.

When you can get through the entire draft without being jerked out of the story by some small annoyance, you might, just maybe, be getting close to query stage. And you’ll probably be wearing a giddy little smile because your book is approaching that seamless quality of those already on the shelves. Good luck!

*All draft numbers are grossly understated. Drafts 2 and 3 might end up being drafts 4, 7…15…you get the idea.


  1. Good post! It is very true how important it is to just get that story on the paper (Or, Word page) first. Then, focus on tightening the plot and fleshing out the characters in later drafts.

    It can be a long process, but it sure makes the story all the more precious eh?

  2. Great advice. I hate, hate, hate editing and find it so hard to get motivated to do it. I do love the idea of someone, someday sleeping with my book under their pillow (but it will probably only ever be me!)

  3. For me, it's always, always always ALL about THE STORY. Nothing else matters. I don't matter, the readers don't matter. The story matters. I also don't think that excessive editing is a good thing. You're more likely to ruin your story by obsessing over ever little thing than you are to make it better.

  4. Such a fantastic post. I'm between stages 2 and 3 right now... and I do suspect draft 15 is in my future. Time to roll up the sleeves and get on with it!

  5. I know the first draft is supposed to be "vomit" and done as speedily as possible, but I find it so hard. Whenever I write a paragraph down I instinctively feel the need to go back and reread it and fix it right away so that it's at least somewhat readable. If I just let it sit there and get the entire draft done that way, I feel that when I go back to edit it, it'll suck so much that I'll lose all motivation to continue with it!

    This probably explains why I'm such a slow writer. xD I think I can get by with it when writing short stories, but once I really start to enter novel territory, I suppose I'll have to change this habit one way or another.

  6. Hey guys, thanks for chiming in!

    Editing is SO tricky - sometimes you're so focused on one aspect of the book that you lose sight of the bigger picture. At least, I do sometimes. :)

    GK - I do same-day editing, too. The scary (and good) thing is that even with those immediate edits, my first drafts usually come out vomit compared to the final polish.

    Hang in there everybody - someday we'll get there!