Five Stages of (Self-)Editing (PNWA 2015 Session Round-up)


Every writer has to self-edit, even if it’s only to get your work in shape to send to beta readers and agents. There are many resources out there for what to look for when editing (my latest fave), but very little about how to go about doing so effectively. If you’re looking for the latter, here’s a great process to follow!

The very last session I attended at the PNWA 2015 Conference was Saturday at 4 pm, taught by AC Fuller. At the end, he admitted that he’d expected the session to drag, as I had when I started. (I was on my third cup of tea and had woken up early for three straight days to get to the conference, so I was practically sleeping on my feet.) To the surprise of teacher and students alike, it was one of the most energetic sessions I attended all conference! AC was a great teacher, straight to the point and with enough humor to remind us that he’s been there, too. (Note: You can listen to the whole talk if you want to!)

He started with this great reminder about why the self-editing process is hard:


Then he set out to give us “a process to take our rough draft to the point of showing to agents or hiring a professional editor.” Of course, everyone has their own process, but I definitely plan to try this out, as it seems eminently usable and adaptable.

Foes of Editing

  1. Procrastination.
  2. The Inner Critic.

Why do we procrastinate? To avoid pain. Either we don’t want to admit that our writing is garbage, or we’re writing about something painful – or both! Well, your writing does need help, so you might as well get down to it. Hopefully with a process to follow, editing will seem less painful. For #2, try to redirect your Inner Critic to fix problems instead of making value judgments. Practice makes perfect!

Stages of Editing

  1. Relax until you don’t hate the sight of your manuscript. Go on vacation. Brainstorm another novel. Clean all the rooms in your house that went untouched while you were drafting. Give it at least a week.
  2. Read your manuscript. Actually read the whole thing. Try it in a different format, preferably one that’s hard to edit (print and bind it, or send it to your favorite e-reader). Figure out what you were trying to say (theme, character arc, etc.).
  3. Restructure. This time when you read it, write down every change you want to make (in another notebook or document referencing scenes or chapters, not page numbers). Don’t make any changes yet! These changes can be anything from “Look up whether they had longbows in 1204 AD” to “So-and-so is a lame character and we need to make him cooler.” Then, and this was the big one for me, order and categorize all of those changes, from largest to smallest. No sense polishing the prose in a scene you’re going to delete! Go through the changes, starting with the largest, and fix your manuscript one note at a time. Repeat until you get to the bottom of the list.
  4. Rewrite. Maybe, if your prose is pretty good, you can give it to beta readers before step 4 to double-check your structure. [I do this by sending an outline to beta readers, but I usually write the outline after steps 1-3. 🙂 –Ed.] Return to step 1 until you’re happy with the story.
  5. Refine. These are the miniscule corrections – copyediting and perfecting your prose – that you want to do before showing to editors and agents. Repeat this step until it’s perfect. 😉

I can’t wait to attack my WIP with this process!

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