The Blog of John Hewitt

Editing your novel as you read it

This is the more traditional approach that people think of when they think about editing a novel. The process is relatively simple.

  1. Consult the notes that you’ve been assembling and think about what you want to accomplish. You might want to reorder your notes so they fit the chronology of the novel.
  2. Begin at the beginning. Start reading and editing the novel from page one, working your way through to the end.
  3. Take more notes as you read. Think about what could be added, changed or eliminated.
  4. Edit and rewrite within reason. At this stage in the game, if you want to add a new paragraph here or there, go ahead. If you want to rewrite a scene, you can do it. Don’t go overboard though. A wholesale rewrite of your novel should not be your goal. Your goal should be to make what you currently have work better.

That is it for the process, but I do also have a few tips:

  • Don’t obsess over the beginning. Many writers get bogged down because they think that they need to rewrite the beginning over and over until they get it right. At this stage in the game, that is probably not possible. Settle for good.
  • It is acceptable to leave some or all scene rewrites and new scenes for later. We have a whole step just for new scenes. If you need to bridge a gap in the plot but you aren’t ready to write the scene, write a quick summary of what you think will happen in the bridging scene, then move on.
  • Save your earlier versions of the book. Hard drive space is cheap and plentiful. Take advantage of it. You may also want to save copies onto CDs or DVDs in case you run into computer problems. I usually send a copy of my work to my online email account so that I can access it from anywhere.
  • Don’t expect to solve every problem in the first run-through. If you don’t have a solution, make a note of the problem and move on.