The Agony that is Editing Your Novel and Devising a Plan to Tackle It

Person writing in notebook and Macbook

Quite the title I know. It’s right about where my mind is though. Jogging in placing, pumping myself up for editing. Oh, joy.

Well, apparently a joy to some! I heard a fellow writer tell me they enjoyed the editing just a few weeks ago. They liked it, because it meant the book they had written was coming together, improving, becoming something readable. Yes, that does sound great, but can I just snap my fingers and have it be done already?

I’ve edited short stories, I’ve even edited theses professionally, but novels… it’s a completely different ballgame. Especially if it’s your own. Not only do I cringe every other page, I also just don’t read it as someone else looking at it the first time would.

Starting to Tackle the Editing Process

Who knows, maybe I’ll come to love editing, but for now it’s a struggle. I’m realising that going through it the first time now with my own novel. It’s this big mountain that I’ve been circling around for a while now and I’m realising that I’ve prepared and researched enough and should really start my ascend.

And I’m doing that in the most astute way; by complaining about it first. Now, it is not so much that I mind doing the work or that I do not enjoy the story developing into something wonderful. It is simply me being unsure if I can do it justice. Unsure whether I can actually manage. It boils down to insecurity in my abilities as a writer, and frankly, that lovely term ‘impostor syndrome’. Because why would I, having never edited a novel, be suitable to do exactly that for my own novel.

I’m glad I have some friends around who not only hold me accountable by asking me how the editing is going, but do let me know that, yes, it can be a gruesome process, but it pays off in the end.

I’ve decided on tackling the thing and doing my due diligence by researching the hell out of how to go about this. Which means I opened my college books again.

Yes, really.

My 9 Step Plan to Editing My Novel

Now, I have by no means found a fixed format yet, but I have managed to divide my editing up into multiple rounds and then divide those rounds up into doable chunks. I figured that’s better than just devoting a time slot to ‘Edit Coffee Crafter’. Seriously, that’s too big of a task to motivate myself to tackle that Scrivener document.

In sum, I’ve decided on the following.

Step 1-3
Edit my plot, character and setting/atmosphere/worldbuilding first in three separate rounds. I’m colour coordinating them, yellow for plot, pink for character, green for setting. The best way for me to get going is to plan the editing rounds per chapter, so on Wednesday I’ll be spending 45 minutes on editing the plot in chapter 1, Thursday chapter 2 et cetera, making notes and gathering the plot as I go. Every chapter will most likely mean a slight revision to the general plot I’ve outlined after finishing writing the story.

Step 4
Reflect on the overlapping plot, characters and worldbuilding, trying to find plot holes, seeing if all characters make sense and sound unique and judging if all settings feel alive and real. Whatever still needs fixing will be noted down and edited again with the same schedule as before.

Step 5
Take a critical look at what each chapter/paragraph does. Is it all relevant to the plot or does it help to get a better understanding and feel for the character and the world? If it has no purpose, remove it or rewrite it.

Step 6
Write emotional stuff in there. I’m by nature not a writer who goes into deep introspection. Which sometimes you need. My dear writer friend and name buddy Marieke Frankema has made me very aware a reader needs to understand the stance of a character. And that means adding reactions and sometimes introspection. So here’s to you, Marieke! An entire step dedicated to get those emotions in there (granted I’ll never go full throttle, not my style and preference for stories, but I’ll get some tear-jerking moments in there).

Step 7
The details! I’ll go into detail on wording, starting to look at each paragraph, then lines, then words going at it by chapter once more and changing whatever sounds weird or incomplete. One important part in this step for me is replacing adverbs and adjectives with more descriptive verbs.

Step 8
Grammar! Colour coding: straight up red. We don’t want any grammatical errors in there. For me personally, I’m going to pay attention to Dunglish (Dutch English), such as ‘shakes shoulders’ instead of ‘shrugs’, which makes for quite a different emotional sequence.

Step 9
Read out loud. I’m taking one final round to read everything out loud to see if everything flows naturally and change whatever simply doesn’t seem right.

And that… That seems about the number of steps I’ll be needing. I’m absolutely certain this list will change over the years, but as a general format it seems like I’m tackling all major points. I do also keep a list handy of words that I commonly misspell or use too much. During my editing process I’m certain that list will be more extensive.

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