Tips on Editing/Rewriting

I must confess that I know absolutely nothing about rewriting/editing, except choosing better adjectives or correcting grammar. But what I do know is summed up in the next few sentences.

Take a break.

Okay, that’s all I know. So I’ve taken a break from my NaNoWriMo novel, I’m taking it until January. But what do I do then? I just looked up that exact question on the NaNoWriMo website and found these helpful quotes:

“Thirteen Tips On Revision:
1. Put the book aside and listen, for the first time, to your insecurities. Do not pay attention to what they say but to where they are pointing. They are wrong that you need to burn down the house but they might be right about starting in the basement.
2. Approach the manuscript ruthlessly, like it is a beloved and difficult friend who has asked to hear what they’re doing wrong. The misdeeds do not cancel out the love, nor vice versa.
4. Cut short and cut long. Change a limp image and discover the entire needs to be cut. Polish a flabby scene and learn it needs to be deleted. If everyone stays on the lifeboat it will sink and no one will be saved. There are hardly any novels that are too short.
5. Stand and pace. Feel the liberation of having dragged hobbled furniture from your room to lay out on the sidewalk for someone else’s benefit.
6. This is the third draft of this set of tips. Hopefully they are now more useful to the reader.”

Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events


“Do not spend a single second making your prose readable until you’re absolutely, positively sure that you have your story locked down. This is the single most important bit of advice I have, and I ignore it all the time and have wasted years of my revising life because of it. The impulse to snappy-up dialogue and make sentences eloquent is almost irresistible at every point in the revision process. The sadness comes when we spend six months transforming our first three chapters into Pulitzer-worthy gems, only to realize that none of those chapters will actually end up in our novels because they don’t work with the ending. Think of your second draft as a house that you’re building. You need to pour the foundation, frame the walls, and get a reasonably waterproof roof over your head before you start to think about putting art up on the walls and installing the basement bowling alley and aviary.”

Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo and author of No Plot? No Problem!


“The first step toward a productive revision is to read your manuscript as a reader not an editor. Just curl up and read it, and make two lists. One is the parts that don’t work–a character so dull you can barely remember his name, parts you were tempted to skip (or sleep through!) The second list is for things you did like, because that’s important, too. At the end, if that first list looks too daunting, read the second and remind yourself of all the parts that worked—all the great stuff that deserves an equally great novel.

Once you have the list, copy the file under a new name, so you’ve always got a copy of the original.

Now, it’s time to get ruthless.

If a scene/page/paragraph doesn’t move the plot along, cut it. If possible, don’t re-read it, because you’re going to find lines and bits of character in it that you love, and that’ll make you start thinking “maybe it’s not so bad after all…”

Trust that initial reader instinct. Cut it and save it in another file—that’ll help with the pain of the loss, knowing you still have that scene should you ever decide you need it back.

If a character doesn’t add to the book, cut him out. If you loved him, save his parts for another book. If you REALLY loved him, give him a more meaningful role so he can stay.

If some part of the plot doesn’t work, brainstorm a list of three alternate routes to achieve that goal (different paths, different character motivations, etc). Pick the one that will provide the most conflict or “emotional bang for your buck.”

Remember—be ruthless. Don’t ever think about how many hours you put into writing a part you’re cutting out. Think of how much better you’ll feel knowing you did your best—however hard it was—to make this novel shine.”

Kelley Armstrong, author of the Otherworld series


“The worst thing you can do when your novel is complete it to slap it into an envelope, or an e-mail, and send it off to a publisher. I don’t care how good you are, a novel is never completely clean and ready to go on the first run through. It’s a good idea to step away from it, work on something else, play with your dog, and introduce yourself to the family you haven’t seen much of since you typed that first page. Do not believe that because you put 50, 60, or even 100,000 words down on paper (or the screen) that it means you are ready for the best-seller list. It means that you’ve reached the end of stage one. You do not want to see the response you will get if you send that thing off sight unseen.”

David Niall Wilson, author of the NaNo-novels Vintage Soul and The Mote in Andrea’s Eye

Well. That was interesting. And very helpful. But do you know what would be even more helpful? You guys telling me how I should rewrite/edit! That would be awesome.

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  1. I just noticed that number 3 in the Lemony Snicket portion of the post is missing…but that’s being nit-picky. I love this post. It reminds me of just how awesome writers are, and how few of them there really are.

    But anyway. I hope what I already have on my blog was helpful, but I’ll try to put something else up there if you’d like. I just have to think of something that will take up at least 500 words in a blog post…


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