Monday, December 17, 2012


By Isabo Kelly

“If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” ~George Orwell

With the passage of another NaNoWriMo, many writers are now feeling the supreme satisfaction of having written, if not an entire book, then the bulk of one. And once that first, unfettered, completely creative draft is finished, rejoice! Every time an author completes a new novel, satisfaction and celebration is in order. That’s a huge accomplishment.

After enjoying the moment of having hit “The End”, however, it’s time to get down to polishing that novel. And here’s where the hard work comes in. Editing requires a completely different mindset to writing the first draft: a harder, more ruthless, honest, almost detached frame of mind. Now’s the time to make your prose sparkle so editors can’t say “No” too easily.

First and foremost, every editing article out there recommends a break after finishing the book. I highly recommend this, too. There’s nothing like a little distance to give you a fresh eye. Immediately after finishing a manuscript, seeing what’s actually on the page, as opposed to what you think is written, can be difficult. If you have the time, try to stay away from this particular novel for a month. Longer will give you even more perspective so if you have the option, take several months.

But taking a break from one book doesn’t mean resting on your laurels. During your break, feel free to start a new project, something that takes your head out of the recently finished work. Also, take the time to read a lot. Both good and bad writing. Good to feed your soul, for enjoyment, and to get an idea of how great story telling is done when it’s done well. Study favorite authors to see what about their writing really transports you and see how you can use that in your own craft. Read books that in some way don’t appeal to you because there’s a reason that supposedly bad book was published. Find that reason and this will help you in analyzing your own story. Noticing writing that doesn’t work for you will also help you clean those particular issues (sins I bet you’ve committed) out of your manuscript.

Once the break is over, I recommend editing in at least two waves. The first is for the big stuff (plot, character, flow, etc…). The second is where you weed out the little stuff like repetitive words, awkward sentences, typos, weak verbs, excessive use of adverbs and adjectives, etc… Another thing I recommend, whether you edit on paper or on the computer screen, is to change the font in the manuscript from the one you wrote the book in. Change it with each round of edits if necessary. You can always change it back to the proper format later. But going through the book in a different font than the one you’re used to looking at is a great way to see the book with fresh eyes. Things you might not have noticed will suddenly jump out at you.

Some will recommend a full read through of the manuscript first, then start editing. Personally, I can’t stop myself from editing when I come back to a novel after a break. I save the full read through for the end. I’ve found that after editing the small stuff, taking another short break, say a week or two, then reading the manuscript as if I were reading it for the first time is more effective. Things I might have missed in the previous rounds will jump out because I’m going through the book as a whole rather than in its individual pieces.

If you can, read the book out loud. Especially dialogue. You’ll quickly spot typos and awkward sentences this way. Read the book to yourself if you don’t want others to hear it just yet. The exercise will still be useful. After those first two edits, if you have a trusted reader or two, pass the book on to them. They will spot what you’ve managed to miss because you know the story too well to have seen the mistake. But when you do this, remember to take any comments with a grain of salt. If the critique or suggestion feels right and make sense, fix the problem. If the comment feels wrong for your story, see if anyone else has the same issue. If more than three people see the same mistake, fix it. If the issue is only a problem for one reader, feel free to ignore their complaint.

And this brings up a really important point. You have to listen to your own instincts. No one else knows this world, this story, these characters as you do. And chances are, if your trusted readers have an issue with something, the very same issue has been nagging you already. Often, you’ll suspect a problem but either don’t know how to pinpoint it or (like I tend to do) are waiting for confirmation that the issue really was in need of fixing. Almost always, if you suspect something is wrong, it is.

Cutting and adding is a part of editing. Cut ruthlessly. The George Orwell quote above is apt. This is no time to be either writerly or too precious. You want other people to read your work and for them to enjoy the book, the writing needs to be as unobtrusive as possible. That turn of phrase might be just lovely, but if it doesn’t advance the story, the characters, or the scene in any way—or worse, if it simply confuses the reader—that turn of phrase needs to get out of your book. This goes for scenes, chapters, subplots and even characters. Be ruthless. What do you absolutely have to have to tell the story effectively? That’s what stays. And the language you use to convey that story needs to be clean, precise, specific, and clear.

Editing a full novel is hard work. And there will always be more editing to do. At some point, you do have to let go and start sending the manuscript out to editors and agents. But before taking this leap, making your book as clean and sparkly as you possibly can will mark you as a writer to pay attention to, one not easy to reject. And the harder you make it on editors and agents to reject you, the better chance you have of achieving your dreams. Good luck!♥

TOMORROW:    Join Isabo again as she answers the question...."So what exactly do you look for when editing?"   

Isabo Kelly mostly builds fantasy, science-fiction and paranormal romance worlds in her fiction, with the occasional foray into something completely different. Her latest release is a contemporary set paranormal romance, CHRISTMAS PRESENT, which is Isabo’s small ode to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. For more about Isabo and her books, visit her at, follow her on Twitter @IsaboKelly or friend her on Facebook


  1. Great post, Isabo. I agree with you completely. Even a week away from a book when you've started on a new one can give you enough distance to do a reasonable edit. After a while you begin to learn your particular weaknesses and can watch for those.

  2. Terrific post, Isabo. I particularly like the suggestion of using a different font. Thanks so much for your insights. Looking forward to the rest.

  3. Great information. I like the suggestion of a different font.

  4. Thanks, Jean, John and Jeanine! Glad you enjoyed the post. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of font changes when editing. Always amazes me what I miss before I do it!