My Self-Editing Process

This past November, I technically did not win NaNoWriMo, but in a way, I did. Confused? What I mean is, while I didn’t write 50,000 words over the course of November, I did complete my rough draft of my book, Serafima’s Stone – Book 2 of the Gaslight Frontier Series!

As is my custom, I then took December off from writing – completely! I didn’t let myself touch my book. I didn’t even open the Scrivener file. Then, starting January 1st, it was time to get down to business and edit.

Editing can feel very overwhelming – there’s so much to do! Analytical person that I am, I came up with a system to focus my editing process and fight that overwhelmed feeling.

Step 1 – Large Scale Developmental Edit

I start by looking at my story as a whole. What is the overall plot? Does it have those basic parts of a story: an inciting incident, rising actions, climax, falling actions, a good ending (in my opinion, the hardest part!)? Does the overall succession of actions (cause-effect) make sense? Are there any glaring plot holes? Details I planted early on and then forgot about? Characters who fell off the face of the planet?

This step generally consists of many, many read-throughs of my draft, with lots of notes and comments sprinkled throughout. Then I go back, address those notes and come up with more. This is an iterative process, and the one that probably takes the longest (it competes with Step 2).

Step 2 – Character-Specific Developmental Edit

Once I feel good about the overall story, I zoom in to look at my characters’ individual stories. This is where a program like Scrivener comes in handy. I can filter out my scenes to only show the ones that involve a particular character. Then, I read through just those scenes, and analyze my character’s arc as its own, isolated story. Where does this character start? How to they develop? What are they like by the end of the story, how have they changed? Does that change make sense?

I do this will all of my main characters and secondary characters: basically, any character that appears any considerable amount of time in the story.

Step 3 – Dialogue-Focused Edit

During this edit, I focus on only the dialogue. Does it sound natural? Conversational or formal where appropriate? Are the words appropriate for the setting and character? Am I using too many dialogue tags?

(I know there is some debate on this. I’m a proponent of relying heavily on “said”, “replied”, and “asked”, or leaving the tag out altogether where possible, rather than trying to come up with more creative or “exciting” tags. I personally find other tags to generally be unnecessary or even distracting, but it’s totally a stylistic choice.)

Step 4 – Description-Focused Edit

This is usually the stage during which I add description in the first place! Description is not really my strong suit when writing. I tend to be more action- and dialogue-focused. So this round of editing is my chance to paint the picture of my characters and my setting, as well as any other pertinent details that need describing.

Step 5 – General Read-Through

At this point, I read through my work with a more general focus. I suppose it’s somewhat similar to Step 1, except that I’m also looking for things like crutch words, repeated words, head-hopping, etc., which I don’t focus on at all during Step 1.

Step 6 – Spell-Check and Proofread

Grammar and spelling!

Step 7 – Off to Beta Readers!

Once I get sick and tired of looking at my own manuscript, I start to look for beta readers. Beta readers are like beta testers for your novel. They try it out before it’s released and let you know what needs work! I have a few friends and family members who help me, and also try to find some other people through online groups and forums for writers and readers of my genre. Before sending out my manuscript, I write-up and outline of what feedback I specifically want (otherwise, you run the risk of a beta reader simply saying “I liked it, good job!”, which, while nice, isn’t helpful).

Step 8 – Revise per Beta Reader Feedback

This step requires a lot of judgment on your part, as the writer. Some of the feedback you’ll receive will be great and helpful and you’re totally on board with it. Other feedback, however, may puzzle you. Did they even understand my story, man? Do they even get it? First of all, step back and drink a cup of tea. Then return to the feedback and really examine it. Maybe it’s true that they didn’t get it. If so, why do you think they didn’t get it? Is there something that could be made more clear? Or maybe they just aren’t your target audience. That’s okay! It’s tricky to decipher which is the case, so in the end, you have to make the decision that feels the best for your novel.

Step 9 – Off to Professional Editors

Once I’ve edited based on my beta reader feedback, I send my manuscript off to my professional editor over at Writership. If you’re looking for some editing advice and resources, check out the Writership Captain’s Blog and the Writership Podcast!

Step 10 – Revise per Editor Feedback

Once I get my professional editor’s feedback, it’s time to edit again!

Step 11 – Proofread

Check that grammar and spelling!

Step 12 – Format

Time to format for both paperback and ebook formats. You can read more about how I format here.

Step 13 – One Final Proofread!

Make sure nothing went screwy after you finished formatting. Final check for spelling and grammar (a second pair of eyes doesn’t hurt here either).

*phew* Then it’s off to finalizing my cover and actually publishing the thing. As you can see, editing is very involved, and very time-consuming.

The next time someone asks me when I’ll be done with my novel, I’ll point them to this post!


2 thoughts on “My Self-Editing Process

  1. Hey, I came over from the Write.Publish.Sell Facebook group. I really like how you broke this down. I’ve wondered how to tackle huge editing projects like this, and totally identify with what you said about forgetting parts and characters at the beginning! Very helpful.


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