The best thing I ever discovered about editing a novel

Assuming you survive the heart-wrenching, glorious process of writing a book, now you just need to destroy it.

Okay, perhaps I’m being a touch dramatic.

If you’ve gone through a developmental edit or you’re self-revising with a magenta marker, you know how hard it gets. Trying to look objectively at your lovely book feels like being forced to torture your loved ones with a rusty pitchfork.

Every change spawned additional changes, so I couldn’t get myself out of the maze. “But if this happens in chapter 2, then chapter 10 is all wrong and chapter 15 will break…” I was paralyzed by indecision and worry that I was ruining my book.

How I stopped losing my mind…

Make one change at a time. Make that change throughout the entire book. Resist the urge to fix everything at once.

When I changed my protagonist’s backstory, it meant she shouldn’t respond the same way in some situations. But the most important thing was to fix the actual backstory scenes first. Once that was done, then I could do a pass making sure her interactions with the killer were consistent. Then her interactions with the inspector, and so on.

How do you edit? Are you able to edit all the things at the same time as you move through the manuscript?


6 thoughts on “The best thing I ever discovered about editing a novel

  1. Several passes. I jump all over the place once or twice. Then I go through completely once, making changes. Finally, I make one pass for grammar.

    But I’ve been in the same boat… Sometimes you have to gut your own work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For a couple of my books, I made a “scene catalogue,” a chart in which I described every scene — what happened, which characters were in it, and its purpose. Then I went through the list and decided whether to cut, change or keep the scenes as they were. I’ve never worked with a developmental editor, but questioned key premises based on input from critique groups.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh that is great, I would love to see an example if you ever feel like sharing. I’m still trying to figure out a good scene catalogue. 🙂

      Sounds like a great critique group! I wish I could find a good online set of writers who are in a similar spot as me–trying to get published and improve their books!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just dug the scene catalogues out — sadly they’re handwritten on paper, so not easily shared. Each set is 5-10 closely-written pages, with brief descriptions of each scene, how many pages it consists of — I think the page numbers refer to Word docs, though — and comments ranging from “OK” to “No need for all this detail,” “Should be less laboured,” or just “Delete.”
        One thing about living in Victoria, BC, the place is crawling with writers, so finding a critique group was easy. Personnel has shifted over the years but generally it’s been helpful.


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