Friday, August 19, 2011


Nothing's ever perfect--especially not the first draft of a story or novel. Ensure that your final draft is as perfect as possible.

Even after meticulous research and with excellent writing skills, all first drafts include plot inconsistencies, superfluous words, typos, or other weak spots. Your second draft won’t be perfect either, nor your third. Even the manuscript you finally submit for publication won’t be perfect, but it’s your job to make it as perfect as possible.

Repeat: it’s your job. Hint One for editing is:

1. Never expect publishers to do your work for you. Don’t delude yourself that they’ll find your idea so brilliant, or be so short on potential material, that they’ll polish the manuscript themselves. Unless your initial submission is of near-publishable quality, they won’t even bother to finish reading it. (Even when sending your manuscript to a freelance “book doctor,” edit it yourself first: saves you money in per-hour charges, and develops the skills that will build your writing career.)

To ensure you do the best editing job:

2. Let the manuscript rest first. Put the first draft aside for at least a week after finishing it. When authors try to edit immediately, their minds, still in “initial writing” mode, are blind to weak areas. After your brain cools, you’ll see the manuscript with fresher eyes.

Really fresh eyes are even better:

3. Have someone else read your piece, someone who understands how to put potential improvements into words. Published authors are best; to find them, click here for a list of writers’ organizations. (See also “Critique Groups,” on this site.) Or check a local college for continuing-education writing classes.

As for the mechanics of editing:

4. Be prepared to edit in stages. Most drafts should be edited at least three times:

Broad edit. Read through rapidly, noting awkward areas. Rewrite any section where you stumble in the reading or have difficulty keeping track of the story. Eliminate any scenes, however beautifully written, that do nothing for the plot. And see The Fiction Factor’s “How Long Should Your Story Be?” and “Understanding Children’s Writing Genres” for notes on story lengths. If your draft is longer than the suggested maximum, consider tightening it: merging two characters into one, for example.

Paragraph-by-paragraph edit. Read through again, at normal speed. Get rid of redundancies (consensus of opinion), unneeded words (the fact that), qualifications (maybe, very, pretty much), and noun-adjective or verb-adverb phrases (see Settings, Hint Four). Do away with repetitive and “singsong” text—not “He picked up his briefcase and his lunch. He went out the door to his car. The engine sputtered and struggled to start,” but “He picked up his briefcase and lunch, and headed out to his car. The engine coughed and struggled to life.” And break lengthy paragraphs into two or three pieces.

Word-by-word edit. Read through slowly, correcting all typos. (Never rely on your word processor’s spell-check; it won’t know the difference between to and too.)

If all this sounds exhausting, remember that in the nineteenth century, Thomas Carlyle rewrote an entire book—by hand—after his original manuscript was destroyed.

While editing:

5. Consider reading your manuscript out loud (for the first two edits) or backward (for the third edit). Reading out loud helps you note awkward text; reading backward forces you to focus on every word.

6. Finally, if you learned typing before word-processor days, a few rules have changed: Use italics—not underlining—for emphasis, and one space—not two—between sentences.

For a crash course on other editing essentials, read The Elements of Style.

Often, the last thing to be edited is the first thing a reader sees—the title.

© 2011 Katherine Swarts

Katherine Swarts is a poet and inspirational writer from Houston, Texas. Her self-published poetry book Where Light Dawns: Christian Poems of Hope for Hurting Hearts (the first volume in a planned series) was “written for naturally gloomy types like myself who are tired of ‘cheer up’ talk and need the comfort of ‘God does love you’ encouragement.” The poems in the book come from Katherine’s blog at; contact Katherine at for ordering information.


  1. Great tips on editing. I sometimes revise my manuscripts 4 or 5 times before I'm satisfied to send them off. As long as I keep finding errors, I'll go back and edit again.

  2. As both a writer and an editor of fiction, thank you for this list!

  3. Great reminders. As an editor I learned the value of both reading aloud and, particularly, reading a text backwards.
    Another hint to consider...print your ms for editing at least once. It is amazing the things you 'see' on the printed page that you passed over on the screen.
    As a reader, and writer, I appreciate a well-written book. It only serves to highlight a well-conceived story.

  4. @Hi Roseanne. In the past I've been known to revise 22 times. I'm so glad those days are over. >g< Have a wonderful weekend.

    @Kay, you're very welcome. Katherine guest blogs on the 20th of every month, and she's always writing about subjects close to my heart. Glad you liked it.

    @Hi Pamela, thanks for stopping by. And thanks for all you do for my fellow writers. What a horrible place the world would be without editors.

  5. Three other things I've found to add to your toolbox of editing tips.

    1. Change the font and font size. You'd be surprised how much more you will see.

    2. Have a copy printed out. I do this for all my books now. I have it done through Lulu. There's no cost to upload a document and you only pay when you want the hard copy sent to you. It normally costs me less than $20 US and I live in Canada. I also get the coil bound, since you can open it all the way and it will stay opne.

    3. If you have a Kindle, convert the ms to the mobi format and email it to your Kindle. It will look like any other Kindle book, plus as you read, you can highlight words/sentences and add notes. Once I'm done that, I go through, only looking at the notes, find that particular place in the ms and make the changes.

    I did all three, plus the regular editing tips on my last historical and not only did that land me an agent, but she said mine was the cleanest manuscript she's seen. It needed very little work.

    Personally, I've found that at least as much time should be spent on editing as went into writing, maybe more. I'm lucky, I enjoy the rewriting. But like it or not, it's necessary if you want to be a professional writer.

  6. I'm with you, Pat. My favourite part is the editing. And I convert to Kobo. Seeing it in book form really helps.

    Congratulations on your agent and the success of your books.

    If anyone else is interested, you can read more about Pat and her books at

  7. Hi Katharine and Joylene .. something surely has to marinate in this process ... I know if I was writing a book .. there'd be a lot of marinating .. and we'd probably end up with pickled walnuts, or damson cheese ..

    Excellent points though and I love the photos to go with each aspect .. cheers Good luck and enjoy the editing ... Hilary

  8. Thanks for a good concise explanation of the editing process, Katherine. I'm going to refer a friend to this as she's a new writer just beginning to edit her first children's book.

  9. @Hilary, hi. Marinating is good. I'm actually doing that right now, taking some time off while I distance myself from my current WIP. Strangely, today is the first day I've been thinking about getting back to it. That's a good sign too. It means I've had a nice rest.

    @Carol, that's great to hear. Remember back when we started and it was a trip to the library before we were able to find all these nifty tips? I love the internet.

  10. What great editing advice - I love the images you included!

  11. Thanks, Karen. Good luck with all your endeavors. Makes my head spin trying to keep up with all you do. Bravo!

  12. Hi Katherine:

    Did all the stages for re-writing and editing, and then my publisher informed me he couldn't find an editor for me, so would I do the final editing (again---he liked the job I did with the previous novel).

    I thought I'd completed the job, hunted for 'bad' words etc; sounds and typos; my wife did the proofreading---and then the final copy started introducing errors itself. Too many contradictory formatting commands had built up. So I wiped it by converting to text.

    Now I'm doing line edits again---line by line to restore the paragraphing and the commas and em-dashes that disappeared. I'm adding the two spaces between sentences he wants. AND, as I go through, I still see wording I don't like and change it.

    Hi Joylene---another good guest post.

  13. Great editing list. I love the photos you chose, very nice. I also agree with reading it a different format. You'd be surprised by what pops out at you.

    Best wishes,

  14. @Chris, I'm not surprised. If I had to choose someone to do my edits for me, I'd definitely pick you. Oh, wait, I did that already.

    @Hi Cher. How's your weekend? Hope you're getting out and enjoying some sun too. I know you work hard. Thanks for stopping by.

  15. I agree 100% with everything! Oh, the stepping away is so very important! Every time I've stepped away from my writing, I've seen it with new eyes upon returning and found so much needed to be changed.

    Pat's idea is also a good one. Changing fonts. That is VERY effective.

    Thank you for all the wonderful tips!

  16. Hi Carol. Katherine's post is so timely. I'm just about ready to return to my current WIP after taking off 3 weeks. I going to change the fonts, plus follow all Katherine's tips.

  17. This is a great list, my spouse, the education tipster, is reading and rereading her first few chapters of her YA novel to me - I've almost memorized the story. Your list will be most helpful.
    The child with spectacles reading the book was absolutely adorable.

  18. Hi Anthony. I love the baby photo too. Whoever captured him reading caught a great moment.


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