Archive of Articles about Writing

Performing a light edit on your novel

The initial step in turning your first draft into a novel was to read your novel. The goal of this reading was to absorb what you had written and get some ideas for moving forward. The general rule was that you were to limit yourself to simply reading and taking notes, resisting the urge to edit even the grammar and the misspellings. Resisting the urge to edit can be very difficult for some people. That is why a light edit should be your second step.

A light edit consists of proofreading and correcting errors in grammar and spelling, as well as making other minor adjustments in readability. A light edit is NOT an in-depth revision or rewrite. You should not be spending your time rewriting the existing text or changing the direction of your story. You can, however, eliminate portions of the text that you are sure you won’t want to use. I suggest that you take these eliminated portions and put them into a separate word-processor file. Do this just in case you decide at some point that you want to put a scene back into the novel or that you want to reread your earlier attempt with fresh eyes.

Steps to a light edit

  1. Save your first draft as a separate file. That way, if worst comes to worst, you can always start again. You may want to reread it down the road too, just to see how far you’ve come.
  2. Use the spell-check tool in your word processor to correct all of the obvious spelling errors. I like to do this first because it allows me to eliminate a huge chunk of errors quickly. Some people find it to be too repetitive. If this is the case, feel free move on to the fourth step.
  3. If your word processor has a grammar checking tool, use it to go through all of the sentences and phrases that have been flagged. Again, it is nice to go through the obvious errors first, which is why I like to take advantage of this tool before I move to the next step. Other people may find it too repetitive. Remember, grammar checkers are NOT always correct. Use your own judgment.
  4. Start at the beginning and go through your novel line-by-line. You’ll find plenty of misspelled words and grammar errors that your word-processor failed to identify for various reasons. You’ll also find plenty of sentences that, while not technically incorrect, can be improved.
  5. Go through the novel a second time. This time, read your novel aloud so that you can hear how your story sounds. Reading your novel aloud helps you to catch errors and weak writing that you won’t notice just by looking at the words.

General advice

Proofreading and editing can be a long and tedious process. Try not to get bogged down. If you find yourself spending more than a minute or two on a sentence, highlight it (I usually put it in bold text) and move on. You can always come back to those problem sentences in the next session, when you can look at them with fresh eyes.

People’s tolerance for editing varies. I can do it for about two hours before it starts to give me a headache and I lose focus. Don’t be afraid to break this process up into multiple sessions or to take breaks.

If you feel the overwhelming urge to write a new scene, don’t pass it up just because you are in the middle of a light edit. Just remember that your focus now is on editing, so when you finish that scene, go back to your editing.

Don’t expect to fix every error. You’ll be reading through you novel many more times in this process, and chances are that you will find new errors every time. Even then, when somebody else reads it, they’ll spot things you’ve missed.

Light editing DOs

  • DO save your original draft.
  • DO correct spelling errors.
  • DO correct grammar errors.
  • DO rewrite sentences for readability.
  • DO eliminate portions of the text that you are sure you want to eliminate.
  • DO keep all discarded portions of your novel in a separate file – just in case.
  • DO write down any ideas that you have for future changes.
  • DO take breaks.

Light editing DON’Ts

  • DON’T rewrite entire portions of your novel.
  • DON’T delete portions of your text without a way to retrieve them.
  • DON’T worry about story structure.
  • DON’T get obsessed with continuity, although it is OK to make minor, obvious corrections.
  • DON’T follow the rules at the expense of a good idea.