Writing Tips #4: Edit.

Hello friend

Welcome to my free weekly writing tips and prompts. Thanks for subscribing. I hope you find these useful.

This week: editing.


Editing is hard. Harder than writing the first draft and that was really really hard. Editing is hard because as soon as you finish your first draft, you’re elated… you’re on top of the world and you just want to dive straight in again and edit it and send it to four million literary agents and… stop. Just stop for a second. Stop. Here’s how to approach an edit.

Take. Your. Time. Friend. Just take your time. It took you [x] months to write the first draft. Why rush the edit? Amount of time spent on your edit should correlate with how long it took you to finish the first draft. The first draft is about filling the page with an idea. The second is about getting the story sorted, the characters living and breathing, and the plot in place. It’s about sorting out the structural issues. The third draft might be about pace, dialogue, character journeys. The fourth might then be about moving commas around. Then you might feel like you can do nothing else to it. Then you can send it off. But, the time to begin the second draft isn’t in the minutes after finishing the first one. The time to start the second draft is… some time in the future.

Put. The. Draft. In. The. Proverbial. Drawer.

Take a month off, minimum. Do other writing. Think about the next book. Think about this one. But at a distance. Watch all seven seasons of The Good Wife. Then, when you have had a period of time away from your manuscript, do the following. Trust me.

1) Print the manuscript off, booklet style. If you don’t have a printer at home then time to sneak in early to work, or just pay a fiver to a printing place. This is important. (I know I’m assuming access to printers. Sorry! I don’t even have a printer. I go to a shop. If there’s a good alternative you can suggest, please message me and I’ll amend.)

2) Read it. Take a week to experience your book as a reader. Read it through. In its entirety. Don’t make any notes. Do not mark the page. DO NOT edit as you go. Just read it and experience it as a reader might for the first time.

3) Once finished, you may write down all the structural notes you need to. All the things that need to change. But only when you finish. This way, your notes are about the big picture. Fixing things all the way throughout. Your first significant edit isn’t concerned with what’s happening in the sentences. Only in the story. This ensures that you don’t get to page 150 on your word doc and think, crap, I have to go back to page 3. This allows you to think about the whole of the novel, the big picture. Are the characters consistent? Does the plot hold up? Does it speak to story? Is it boring?! Is it consistent?

4) Now go through the printed manuscript and mark up specific places to work up. Okay. Now you are ready.

5) Open document. Begin edit. Do this is with each edit. I swear, it’ll help you see the novel as a whole, and not as a line-by-line entity.


You are at the bottom of dragon mountain. Write your journey to the top. Give yourself a minimum of four obstacles along the way, and work out how you will overcome them. Write for thirty minutes. GO.


I’m writing this in Ted Hughes’ barn, ill. I’ve been teaching on an Arvon Course with a virus. And the more I cough, the more the people I’m teaching flinch, like I’m patient zero in a contagion film. The thing is, I’m here because I love teaching. But I’m here because even though my body was saying no, my mind was saying, go. Take regular rests, I think to myself. If you are ill, you’re no good to anyone. Especially people paying to learn from you. But instead, here I am, burning the candle at both ends. I’m in the strange comedown of having handed in my new book to my editor last week. I don’t feel on top of the world. I feel strange and vulnerable and exposed and waiting for her notes, which will be helpful and constructive, but my initial reaction will be defensive self-doubt, because I should have turned in something better. It’s this way always with these drafts of books. And I always get ill the day after sending them in. I should be writing this from my bed. Heck, I should have even taken a week off from this newsletter. Alas, here we are. Sometimes the writing life is all illnesses and self-doubt. Be well my friends. Rest up, hydrate, say no to things when your health depends on it.

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