Five Things You Should Know Before Editing


Picture by Nic McPhee. Edited.

I’m about to dive back into editing again after finishing Camp NaNoWriMo in April. My novel The Crystal Tree is begging for me to edit it for the third time. So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking back at the last two rounds of edits. When I started editing, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it might be as easy as editing an essay where I can spot all the errors at a glance, the structure is simple and it’d take me one pass, maybe two, and a proofread, and it would be ready to share with people. It turned out that there was a lot more to editing a book than I expected. There are a lot of things that I wish I had known before I started editing. Today I want to share five of them with you.

  1. Editing a novel is nothing like editing an essay. The fact that it’s so much bigger means that there is far more work to do. You may need to cut out whole scenes. You may need to add a whole character, or weave in another sub plot, or take one out. It’s more than a matter of changing a word here and there and rearranging a few paragraphs. Unless you’re very good at first drafting (in which case I envy you very much), it’s likely that you’re going to need to make some major changes.
  2. When rereading your novel, you are inevitably going to sit back and say ‘what was I thinking?” It’s a fact. First drafts are full of bad writing. There are always lots of good ideas, but also plenty of terrible ones. At least that’s what my first (and second and third) drafts are like. Don’t despair though. Acknowledge that there are parts in your book that aren’t so brilliant, and then focus on how to fix it.
  3. It is possible to enjoy editing. Some people love editing. I am not one of them. I would rather write first drafts than turn them into edited books. So when I started my first edits, it was hard work. But, the first time something clicks into place and the prose starts to shine, giving an idea of what the finished product will be like, suddenly editing doesn’t seem so bad.
  4. Sometimes you need to take out your favourite parts. There are always those moments in any book which you fall in love with. Maybe it’s the scene that got you started writing the book in the first place. It could be a line of dialogue, or a character you absolutely adore. But sometimes they just don’t fit with what the book has become and you need to take them out. It can be so tempting to keep it and try to make everything else work around it. But if this happens, ask yourself: “what is more important to me, this scene, or the whole book?”
  5. Editing is worth it.  Editing looks like a big job. It feels like a big job. It is a big job. And it’s easy to think that maybe it’s just better to leave the book and write something else. I ended up with thirteen first drafts before I started editing anything. But the truth is, the first draft of a book rarely resembles what you imagined when you started writing it. Editing is hard, but all those hours of pouring over your prose are worth it when the book looks like what you imagined in the beginning.

So there you have it, five things I wish I knew before I started editing.  What do you wish you’d known before you first started editing? Do you enjoy editing or are you like me and love drafting more? If you haven’t edited before, does editing seem exciting, or scary?

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