Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

I started writing ‘From Here to Nashville’, my debut romance novel in April 2013. By the end of October that year, I had a first draft which was over 100,000 words. As this is my first novel, I really had no idea how to go about the next stage so I turned to the internet to help me. Naturally, there was a whole ton of information and advice out there so I had to sift through it and work out what was right for me. I thought then that it might be useful, as much for myself as anyone else, to summarise the stages that I have gone through with this first novel in the hope that I will be better at it next time round!

1. Reading aloud
It is generally accepted that this is a good first step to take after writing that messy first draft without having stopped to edit along the way. This was the approach I had taken with this first novel and it’s also what I did with my second which was written during NaNoWriMo 2013 when I discovered that there is simply no time to stop and edit. For this process, I printed the story out. When I came to reading my story out loud, I realised that this is not something you can do quickly and the very act of slowing down meant that I found lots of little mistakes and was easily able to highlight them for editing later. This included the repetitive use of some words and I also found, for example, that I repeated characters’ names too much so I deleted quite a few of these. I noticed that I hadn’t been consistent with my writing of numbers, dates and times so I decided on a style and then I stuck to it. I found some obvious plot-holes that would need correcting later and I was able to ponder the structure of the story and think about whether it needed tweaking.

2. Replacing Passive sentences with Active sentences – E-Prime
I first wrote about this on my blog in May this year and you can read the full post here. In summary, this involves finding and replacing the verb ‘to be’ with a more active verb in your writing. The example I gave in the article still holds good, I think but here’s another one for you:
Before – ‘We were strolling along the promenade…’
After – ‘We strolled along the promenade…’
You won’t be able to do this for every instance but when you can do it, you will notice that it definitely improves your writing.

3. Over-used words
As I use Scrivener, it was really easy for me to see which words I was over-using using the ‘Text Statistics’ function which is an option under the tab ‘Project.’ I have taken a screenshot today of the most used words in my manuscript and I can still see that ‘I’ is at the top, as it was in May! I have managed to reduce the number of times I use it though 🙂
Screenshot 2014-09-08 09.47.08
As you can see, these are all every day words and I feel pretty happy that I have managed to eradicate over-use of most of them. Words like ‘that’ are often put in unnecessarily and can bump up your word count no end. There are lots of articles about these over-used or filler words and you really should have a look at eliminating these during the editing process. Here are just a few things to look out for:

  • over-use of adverbs.
  • using clichés. Work out what you’re trying to say and then write it differently.
  • using ‘began to’ or ‘started to’ or ‘decided to.’
  • using ‘seemed to.’
  • using ‘very’, ‘really’ or ‘just.’

4. Showing not Telling
Once my manuscript came back from the RNA, this was the first big thing I had to tackle. This was to be expected as it was my first novel so I didn’t beat myself up about it too much. Half the battle is in working out when you should show and when telling will be alright. Once again, I wrote a blog post about it here and there are also lots of articles written about it which you may or may not find helpful! The best one I found is listed in my blog post and remains the one I found the most useful.

5. Cutting Scenes that are not relevant to the story
This speaks for itself and has been painstaking because I have found it difficult to be sure whether every one is relevant or not. Sometimes it was very clear and I was able to delete without any worries but at other times, it was hard. I suspect that this comes with practice. If you write a good outline for your story and keep to it pretty much through the first draft, then hopefully, the redundant scenes will be fewer at the end. I’ll have to let you know on that one next time 😉 For now though, only you can know what you think is relevant or otherwise to your story but the general advice is that a scene is not relevant if it doesn’t move the story forward.

6. Killing your Darlings!
We’ve all heard this phrase, I’m sure but I hadn’t really absorbed it until I was advised that I had too many minor characters in my story. When I thought about it, I had to agree and I realised that this would mean quite a change to the plot of the story. Once again, it has been hard to make these changes at this stage but I know it has helped my story to improve and that’s what all this editing is about. We’re trying to make our story tighter and to make it a great read. To be honest, most of my secondary characters weren’t all that ‘darling’ to me and I was kind of relieved to release them off into the sunset. Who knows, maybe they’ll find another home in one of the books I have yet to write?

7. Adding Emotion to your Romance
The final piece of advice I have been given so far is that there needs to be more emotion on the page whenever my two main characters, Rachel and Jackson, are together. This advice came as a result of the partial edit I had done on my first three chapters and was really useful. The reader knows that your main characters are going to fall in love but you have to keep ramping up the tension every time they meet and although I knew this and it’s what I want as a reader, I could see that I hadn’t really written it into my story as much as I could have done.

And there you have it. This is only a brief summary of what I’ve done so far. I hope to send it off for its final edit next week and only then will I really know if I’ve done everything I can. It has been a steep learning curve for me as a new writer and I couldn’t have got this far without the help of a lot of other people, including the early readers of my novel. In the beginning, I allowed a fair few friends and family members to read parts of the novel and to tell me what they thought. This was only partly helpful because they all said it was great, of course and only picked up on typos. Some did want Rachel to go with a different love interest and that was certainly useful for helping me to develop the plot. Next time, I won’t ask so many people to read it in the early stages though. I will stick with my beta reader and writing friend, Cat, if she’ll still have me (!) and I have another writing friend who has offered to read my final draft this time (she knows who she is but she may have changed her mind since making that offer!) It is a big time commitment to beta read and you need writers to do it for you because they can be impartial, unlike your family and friends.

Good luck with your editing if that’s where you’re at and if you have any questions for me, do ask in the comments below or tell me of something you’ve done which has been really helpful for you. Thanks for reading and see you next week 🙂


25 Comments on The 7 Stages of Editing I have used from First to Final Draft

    • Thanks, Susanna. You’re right, it is a skill and there are so many parts to it. Even now, as I approach the end, I still don’t know if I really have finished. Once again, I guess that will come with practice. At least, I hope it will!

  1. That was a great read. I’ve seen all most of the advice before, but I always need to be reminded of it. Reading aloud is my least favorite to do, but sometimes the most helpful. Right now I am at that point where I may have to cut a secondary character (or two!) because they just add nothing to the story, but not sure how I want to handle it yet. And my self imposed deadline for giving this to beta readers is Friday 🙁

    • Thanks for reading, Lisen, I’m glad you enjoyed it and perhaps it reassured you that I’ve been doing the same things as you! Good luck with your self-imposed deadline, I know how that feels 🙂

    • Thanks for reading, Rebecca. I ‘just’ checked FHTN and I use it 332 times! I don’t know if that’s still too many but the little monitor at the side is orange 😉 We all have some words we over-use and it can be very difficult to stop yourself.

  2. This is a terrific piece for first time novelists who don’t know where to start, Julie – it really puts it all succinctly and perhaps makes it look less frightening! And I am forever deleting all those ‘seemed to’ type phrases – you start to do it automatically after a while, and just go ‘eek’ every time you type it! My worst is ‘just’ – I usually get rid of 200 of them per novel, I reckon!
    I don’t read the whole thing aloud, because we don’t read aloud, but I do often read the dialogue out. I think what really divides the wheat from the chaff is the ‘telling not showing’ – I’ve just read the first couple of chapter of an indie novel (which I subsequently abandoned) in which the writer had written a series of sentences telling the reader how the character felt about something, instead of illustrating it by how she reacted/spoke. You know the sort of thing ‘Jane and Bob had never had an easy relationship because he always teased her about blah blah’, instead of writing a passage in which Bob teased Jane, and showing by her reaction that it was a common occurrence. I want to read a story, not a series of statements!!

    • Thanks, Terry 🙂 ‘Just’ is definitely one of those words, isn’t it? The hard thing though is finding an alternative. Sometimes, you can leave it out and it’s okay but sometimes you ‘just’ can’t 😉
      I agree about the telling, not showing. It’s so hard to know when you’re doing it sometimes. Your example makes it look so easy to spot but there are times when I haven’t realised I’m doing it but I can see when it’s pointed out. I hope that one day, if you read my novel, you won’t be sitting there tutting at me!

      • Julie, I’m the world’s pickiest reader. However, I think the difference between you and many first time writers is that you ARE aware of so much (maybe too much, sometimes!!!!), so you won’t make the mistakes so many do – me included!!! At the end of the day (did I really just type that awful phrase??!!), what matters is the talent, the spark, the ability to write a story that makes the reader keep reading, which is something that you can’t learn from blog posts or creative writing classes, or anywhere else. I’ve given 5* reviews to books with proofreading errors, because they were real ‘couldn’t put it down’ers, but am currently reading a very well presented book I am having to force myself to pick up!!! I have a feeling yours will be one of the former type 🙂

        • Ah, Terry, you always lift my spirits! I know you’re right that I worry too much 🙂 I hope you’re also right about my book being one of the former. I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see what you think when the time comes!

  3. Of course I’ll have you – it’s been great working with you Julie and I’ve learnt a lot along with you both through the reflective blog posts you write and the determination and focus you have me aspiring to 😉
    I cannot wait to see FHTN published so I can start raving to my friends about it! I thought it was pretty good the first time I read it, and that was an earlier draft so it’s so exciting to think I’ll get to re-read it with some alterations! It’ll be like reading it for the first time again and yet still be with ‘old friends’ Rachel and Jackson.
    Some great techniques here – ones that I’m sure I’ll need to use myself 😉 Great post doll.

    • Thanks, Cat. We’ve certainly grown a lot together over this past year. Here’s to the coming year with all the good writerly things to come 🙂

    • Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment as well. I’m glad you found it helpful and I hope you enjoy reading some of my other ones too 🙂

  4. Great advice Julie. I smiled as I read that as I recognise so many of those as things I’ve gone through myself. The hardest one I found was cutting scenes; particularly ones I really loved or were very funny. My NWS reader kindly gave me a great list of what to consider in relation to each scene to help decide whether it added value. Once I started the cull, it wasn’t so tricky. And I kept everything, just in case.
    Jessica x

    • Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment:) I feel glad that you recognise this list – I must be getting something right then! I have found it hard to know how to go about implementing the advice I’ve received from different places. Sometimes, you can understand what you’re supposed to do but not always how to go about it. Still, I’ve learnt a lot and the light at the end of the tunnel draws ever closer 🙂

  5. Excellent guide for editing! I am currently in final edits of my new novel, and except for the “romance” part (I’m a suspense writer), all the other points are very valid and guiding me as I proceed!

    • Thanks, Ellis! I’m so glad you found it helpful and that you’re able to use it as a guide for your suspense novel too. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment 🙂

  6. Excellent post! Reading aloud is very beneficial, as it’s easy to pick up on so many things that you miss when you silently go over your manuscript. Personally, it was odd for me at first, but once I got used to hearing my own voice it was easier. Text to speech programs also come in handy as well. Thanks for putting this list together.

    • Thank you for reading it too. It is very weird to read aloud – I only do it on my own 😉 But it really does help to pick up those early clunky bits, I think. I have learnt so much during these 5 million drafts of FHTN. I hope it will get easier and quicker next time!

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