Writing A Novel: “You Mean, I Need to Edit?”

I’ve just finished the second major edit of my novel Exodus, #3 in the ARKANE series. I’m now going through again, editing it on the Kindle before releasing it to beta readers.

editing ARKANE

Some of my own editing

It’s true that writing the novel is only the start of the adventure, for it’s the editing stage that can make or break the success of your book. Guest blogger Nick Thacker has some tips. 

I just finished writing a book.

Part of me is elated; “bouncing-off-the-walls”-excited.

The other part of me knows it’s a lie—I am, after all, a pretty “naïve” writer…

While I’ve “finished” writing a book (a thriller novel, to be specific), I also know that I’m nowhere near finished with the actual process of “book writing.”

To be clear, the words are all there. The cover’s even complete, and I’ve got some Lulu-printed hardcovers and paperbacks on the way, and the Kindle version is ready-to-go on Amazon.

And I didn’t have to “sell my soul” to get it done.

But I’m writing this post for two reasons: to talk about the next step for myself (and you, if you’re in a similar boat), and to prolong the actual taking of the next step…

What’s the next step?

To put it bluntly, it’s the rewriting process: the editing, cutting, rehashing, rewording, etc—everything that we don’t think about when we begin the rewarding and awesome journey of book writing.

Sure, I have a pretty decent vocabulary, which I think I’m able to wield with relative ease. I also pride myself at my editing/proofreading abilities—I love to spot those incorrect there, they’re, or theirs in other peoples’ work.

But when I finish an article, chapter, or larger work, when that last word is placed so perfectly on the page (or screen) in front of me—I’m done. I absolutely abhor the idea of starting again. I don’t want to revisit my characters—some have died horrible, nightmarish deaths—and scenes. I don’t want to find the typos, mistakes, and misnomers that I’ve somehow let slide the first time around—not to mention the strange wording here, the odd anachronism there. I just want to upload my Kindle file and start building my blog’s readership to sell more books.

Writing, I’ve come to find out, is maybe one part actual writing—putting words on the paper—and one part (or more!) redoing everything.

Umm, we know…

Maybe I’m just too new to this art form. Maybe I just wasn’t properly forewarned. Maybe I’m actually on to something no one’s ever thought of before.

Most likely, the importance and headache of editing down, improving, and finalizing a manuscript is something I’ve just ignored since—obviously—I need to have a manuscript written first before I’m able to really edit and rework it.

Either way, I’m now starting to realize a few key points that may be of use to others looking to push through their first novel. Here are a few items that I’ve found, after penning 110,000 words, that would have helped me enormously prior to and during my writing experience:

Planning

I can’t stress this enough. Some writers are able to “flow” in a linear way, bouncing from chapter to chapter in a seemingly effortless way. I started writing as I began the research, and I wish I’d spent 2-3 months solely researching, planning, and studying—my characters, my settings, and my ideas.

Equipment

While I’m sure it’s not impossible to write long documents in Microsoft Word, who would want to? I used a piece of software called Storyist for a brief period, mainly for its full-screen mode, until I stumbled across Scrivener (which soon released a full-screen mode as well anyway!), which made my writing experience and compilation process not only easy, but also enjoyable. To round out my equipment set up, I used Evernote for the research and planning process and always have my MacBook Pro at my side (or on my lap).

Reading material

Usually the last thing on my mind during the writing process was reading more. I was constantly working on the manuscript, reading a few similar genre thrillers, and maintaining my non-fiction reading for work. But about three days after I hit “Compile” and prepared my book for its first print-run, I came across Dwight Swain. If you haven’t heard of him, Google his work right now. I have a copy of Techniques for the Selling Writer in front of me now, highlighted and ready for a second read-through. Honestly, it’s not just one of the best “how to write” books out there—it may very well be one of the most outstanding “how-to” books on the market. His timeless advice is extremely practical, easy-to-digest, and specifically geared toward fiction writers interested in commercial viability.

I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and preach the “one true way” for writing—as with most art forms, there’s never only one route to the destination. I’m just hoping to start a dialogue with both the seasoned writers out there and the younglings like myself who are eager and willing to learn.

The secret?

What I’ve found after writing one novel, starting a second, and completing numerous nonfiction manuscripts, is that this “last step” should actually come first.

Obviously it’s impossible to rewrite what we haven’t written yet, but what I mean is this:

Plan ahead for the rewriting process:

  • Plan ahead by outlining and layout out your novel well the first time.
  • Plan ahead for the extra time it will take between going back and forth with an agent, editor, or publisher.
  • Plan ahead for the marketing steps you’ll immediately want to take after you write “The End.”
  • Plan ahead for the balance between starting to promote and finishing up your WIP manuscript.

Most new writers know they’re “supposed” to rewrite at least once or twice. I was one of these “in-the-know” people, but yet I somehow thought that my writing was above this, and I didn’t need to rewrite.

Thankfully, I had absolutely no momentum built when I finished the first draft, so there was no eager tempting to send my masterpiece out into the world, uncut and unfinished. I threw it in a drawer and then started researching the marketing and promotional aspects of my upcoming book launch—eventually to realize that a couple rewrites were more than necessary!

What do you think?

My experience and takeaways might help someone structure, plan, and execute the writing of their own masterpiece, but for now I’m happy enough to post this, hear your thoughts, and join in the discussion!

Have you done a full rewrite, or is your planning process such that you don’t feel you need to rewrite at all? Let us know in the comments below.

nick thackerAbout the Author

Nick Thacker is a writer from Texas, and he writes to help writers, bloggers, and pretty much anyone who wants to hack their life! Check him out on his website, where he talks about how to write, and be sure to grab his new book, Welcome Home: The Author’s Guide to Building A Marketing Home Base. Also, be sure to grab the newsletter!

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Comments

  1. says

    A couple rewrites? Honestly, this just made me have no interest in reading anything from Nick. If you don’t care enough about your product to slave over it until it’s in great condition, why should we want to buy it? That’s true for anything in retail, and it’s even more true for books that demand hours and days of a reader’s attention. He should have learned that a long time ago. Sorry for the negative feedback. I usually love the stuff Joanna posts here.

    • says

      Hi Ed,
      I think it’s important to remember that people come to the writer’s journey at different points. Many readers of this blog haven’t yet written their first novel – and when they do, many are not aware of the editing process.
      I also realize there are people who read the blog who’ve written 25+ books and absolutely understand everything that goes into the process.
      I love hearing from people at every point on the journey – and Nick is sharing an early step at an early point in his journey. We all develop over time …

      • says

        Thanks Joanna. That is a totally fair point. I’m still a relative newbie at writing and love the different perspectives you provide here, but I just wanted to let Nick know that expressing this kind of surprise at the craft might turn off readers who want more from their writers. I would never walk into a baseball team’s locker room (to pick a random group of professionals) and say, “wow, I didn’t think it took so much work to do this!”, but maybe I’m being overly sensitive here as I struggle to make a go of this tough profession. The need for rewriting and detail oriented editing is a profound one and I agree that you can be a great resource for people who may think that’s a new concept. If sharing this perspective from Nick works, then I’m all for it. Cheers.

        • says

          No worries Ed, I get over-sensitive too – about blogging and writing – this is a soul-baring business! I appreciate your perspective and I’m sure Nick will be by to comment in a while. Thanks.

        • says

          That’s a good analogy, but don’t forget that these players have played hundreds — if not thousands of games prior to that night. In the same way, “great” writers should be willing to publish over and over again and get their work into the world. Hopefully they’ll be seen as great and readers will love them, but there’s no doubt that the more writing they do and the longer they keep at it, the better they’ll get.

    • says

      Hey Ed;

      I hear you, man. However: as a “newbie” writer, there was no WAY I was going to get the proper funds set aside to hire a professional editor — a great editor can cost thousands. Also, don’t forget the fact that I approached this post as a brand-new novelist — not a seasoned vet. I wasn’t intending to imply that it ONLY takes one or two rewrites, but rather exactly what I said:

      “Most new writers know they’re “supposed” to rewrite at least once or twice.” However, once you get started, you realize there are plot holes, twists you’d like to include, no character development (or too much), etc. etc. My goal here was to tell other first-time or new novelists that it’s okay — rewriting and editing can be fun, but you need to allow that to be part of the process. If you’re going to slam something into the world immediately after you write the first draft, it probably won’t do as well.

      Finally, there’s a cold hard truth that we novelists tend to lean toward perfectionism in our own work. I’m taking that into consideration — there comes a time that if we want to eat, we need to ship. I don’t believe any book can ever be “perfect” in the writer’s eyes, and I’m no exception. Part of my own journey has been realizing where that balance is, and doing at least two rewrites from scratch, followed by a few self-edits (and hopefully hiring a pro editor) seems to work for me.

      Sorry you completely disagree — I do appreciate your feedback and thank you for your time!
      Nick

      • says

        As a very newbie writer myself, I was very turned off to seeing an obvious veteran writer telling a new writer that he wouldn’t buy anything he wrote because of the personal experience he was sharing. Personally, I look up to those who have been down this road before me. And to hear one trashing a new writer, like me…that was a disappointment. I believe we are all free to share our opinions, but let’s try to keep it a little less personal. I will be the first to admit that I don’t know everything there is to writing a novel. Not even the tip of the iceberg. But you know what? I’m learning as I go. And that’s what I took away from Nick’s article. He’s learning and he’s sharing that with us. I thought it was a great article. Very helpful to people like me.

        And Ed, while your points are valid, I felt the same disinterest in your work because of the way you voiced them. I truly believe authors should encourage each other, not slam each other because we’re all at different stages in our writing careers. Just a piece of friendly advice.

        Thanks for sharing this :)

        • says

          Sorry if that first post came across as a “slam” Nick and Megan. I am definitely not a veteran writer, but I do have some experience as a business person and was trying to voice my response as a consumer so Nick could see what his piece elicited in me as a reader. I meant it to be honest feedback. It wasn’t artfully balanced with writerly encouragement, and I’m sorry for that. It’s tricky. This is a blog for writers, but it’s also a public forum. If Nick and I were in a writing group and I advised him of my reaction to his words, there would be no problem. But it would have come across better in person with a bit of give and take. I’ll work on doing that better in my comments the future.

          As to your reply above, Nick, Microsoft doesn’t advertise the fact that they release beta products and hope you’ll be ok with them while things get better. That’s their strategy, but they don’t advertise it. Similarly, I don’t think writers should advertise the fact that they are doing that, if that’s what they are doing. You may not be, but as a reader, that’s what I just took from your extension of the baseball analogy.

          But what do I know? You’re guest blogging on thecreativepenn so I’m sure you’re a hard worker and you do edit your stuff as far as you can take it. Good luck. We all need it.

          • says

            I think it was all just a case of misinterpreting how something was said. My only point was that I think we should all encourage and help each other. If that’s what you were trying to do, Ed, great. Perhaps I just misunderstood it. I’d like to see more people sharing their experience writing. It really helps me on my journey. I’m editing my first novel and I’ll be honest…I knew there was a lot of work involved but really didn’t know what I was getting myself into until I was in the midst of doing it. So it helps to hear how other authors have done it before me.

            Ed, I echo your sentiments…what do I know? I’m just one person telling my “opinions”. That’s all they are. Best of writing to all of you!

  2. says

    Hi Nick! (and Joanna :-) I LOVE your quotation: “If we want to eat, we need to ship.” Perhaps not the main point you were trying to make with the article, but definitely a little gem that tells us when to STOP editing/perfecting our work and just put it out there. Otherwise, we might err on the other end of the spectrum and tinker with an MS endlessly, and it will never be seen by a single reader. Thanks for such an informative article (and a great discussion in the comments!)

    • says

      Thanks, Ilana!

      It wasn’t the “main” point of the article, but it is an important factor in my writing career. Understand that I wrote this post almost a year ago, and I’ve finished two full-length books and quite a few pieces of non-fiction since then.

      Are they perfect? Nope. Never will be — BUT they’re the best I could have done with what I’m able to do today, and I’m constantly re-working things, finding errors, etc.

      Some writers write exclusively for themselves — that’s fine. But I’m not one of them — I actually want to get my work into the hands of my readers!

  3. says

    Thanks for your honesty and thoughts. I was that writer who thought his first round of writing just needed a few grammar changes and then it would be ready to print. Two qualified editors and numerous friends later I am on my 3rd major rewrite. I still have a few parts I am not totally satisfied with but they are so much better now. I was expecting to be on my third book by now but I am just towards the end to ship the first. Blessings. Joseph

    • says

      Thanks, Joseph — and I was that writer too. I thought, “well, yeah, I know I’m SUPPOSED to rewrite and edit, but that’s for LESSER writers. MWAH HAH HA…”

      Anyway, I’ve grown up a lot since then (I thought all of that before I wrote my first word, so I got “schooled” pretty quickly!).

      After I finished my novel, I was contacted by an editor and we’re now going through the MS together — and MAN was I surprised at how much is changing! I had rewritten the thing almost three separate times, with countless edits in-between, but it was NOTHING compared to getting a second trained set of eyes on it!

  4. says

    I always struggle with the concept of ‘rewrite’… what exactly classifies as rewriting? How deep? How light? I have not seen a well done explanation. It is all too vague. Several trips with a brush hog and a spin or two with finesse reads using nail files might or might not classify as rewrites? Does my detailed outline I do before hand count as a ‘write’ (since pantsters don’t do this step)? Or must I chuck the first version in a cabinet and type the second version entirely from memory and merge the two later (which seems more like re-writing, like when my flash drive loses my files)? And so, without a precise definition of what a rewrite entails and how many times the self flagellation must be completed, there are arguments.

    Different levels of editing finesse are required for different genres. Some readers want the story and don’t care for fancy flowery prose without a blemish of punctuation, they beg you and question you for why the next book in the series is not out yet and when they finally get it they stay up until 3am devouring the compelling story only to call you the next morning demanding still more. Others relish the hunt for defects more than anything else about the book. And some weep at how the rough soul of a great book gets over-edited into bland packaged bread that lays there limp and lifeless.

    So what makes a rewrite a rewrite? And when is it ok to ship? For ship it must if it is to touch the world.

    • says

      Hi J.S.

      I love this comment — wise, well-timed, and thought out. Thanks for sharing! Your questions are the exact things I ask myself, and I’m not sure there’s ever a “perfect” answer. We just need to gauge it as we go I think, and as we write more and receive feedback from readers and editors, use that to build a “structure” for editing as a bare minimum.

      Hope that makes sense — thanks again for the awesome comment!
      Nick

  5. says

    I’d say 90% of writing is rewriting (I may have read that somewhere or made it up)

    All I know is that I can’t wait to start my second novel now. I’ve learned so much this time around that I can tackle book number two in style…hopefully :)

    Top Post, Nick. And good luck with the launch. I’ll be following closely

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  6. says

    It has been interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives on this. Art is certainly subjective for both the reader and the writer, and the process is different for everyone. I don’t know that 90% of the time put in is rewrites. I think the biggest, most important, part is getting your story down because then, you have something to work with afterward. For someone like me who writes historical fiction, the research is huge and of utmost importance.

    I’m relatively new to the indie writer life and have got one novel out with the sequel and a novella just about ready for release. I’m writing two other books at the same time too. The novella required three solid edits but for the novels, after input from agents and test readers, it came to about six full drafts each with 10 rewrites for the opening chapters. It is a lot of work but so is the marketing after it’s all done! Joanna has shown how much there is to do in that area to be successful.

    The main thing I wanted to say is that I think we all grow as writers over time, due to our experiences in life but also in pursuing our craft. I don’t know about everyone else but I do enjoy reading an author’s work over the span if their lifetime and seeing how it grows, how they grow along with it. Maybe it starts out young and naive, rough around the edges, but then it changes, becomes more polished and knowing or perhaps more jaded. That is something I enjoy.
    Anyway, my two cents. Cheers!

    • says

      Art is DEFINITELY subjective. I think though that those who’ve gone before us can give certain tidbits of advice that are general yet still helpful, like:

      1. We should rewrite and edit our work. A lot.
      2. We should always work to improve our craft.
      3. We should constantly have an idea of who our target market is.

      Those are the three that come to mind that I’ve heard somewhere along the way, and they’ve helped me stay focused when crunch time rolls around — like when I’m wondering if I should invest MORE time into Twitter/Facebook, I remember that while it can be helpful, it’s probably not as helpful as honing my skills and focusing on the craft of writing.

      Thanks for the comment, Adam!
      Nick

  7. Armada Volya says

    Yeap, I’m there, on my second to last edit.
    How the hell did pulp writers write two novels a monoth?
    Well, I’m done procrastinating, now back to that red pen.

    • says

      Haha, seriously — one of my favorites (Dwight V. Swain) gives AMAZING advice, but I wonder if it’s even relevant since he wrote SO prolifically he must have been a mutant…

  8. Michael Scott says

    Unfortunately I disagree with with most of the advice here. “Techniques of the Selling Writer” is a total fraud. If you don’t believe me read “Henry Horns X-ray eyeglasses” by Dwight Swain. It is probably the worst thing I’ve ever read. Swain wrote comic strips. Despite many attempts, he has never written a successful work of fiction.

    Before taking any literary advice (including mine) Your first task it to write something. Read it, and have others read it. Unless you plan to be a ghost writer, you won’t achieve very much success by learning to write like somebody else. It’s you, your ideas, and your voice that is for sale. Once you understand the way you write and the features of your style you can start the editing and rewriting. Most writers are led to believe that to edit means ‘to cut’ – it doesn’t. When I edit or rewrite I invariably add to the work. e.g. I write complex plots and strive to make them bombproof. And because dialogue is a one of my strengths much of the narrative gets converted to scenes (show).

    I think the most important thing for any novel writer to understand is the difference between novel writing and journalism. The two are poles apart. Unfortunately most of the advice bandied about relates to journalism. With a good novel you can ‘hear’ the author and there is a recognisable style – newspaper articles are voiceless. Depending on your particular method you should pay particular attention when editing. When writing I am in the zone – living the scenes. I have the narrative voice and the character voices in my head. Word choices, rhythms, even awkward sentences belong to characters. Yoda wouldn’t be Yoda without his diablocal speech pattern.

    • says

      Hi Michael;

      Good points — I agree that Dwight Swain isn’t a common favorite for people, but “good” is also subjective (my wife hates Star Wars, for example. Crazy, right?!?). I’m a huge fan of Swain not because of his writing style, but because he’s able to hone in on what makes a good (selling) novel tick. He gives examples of how structure and planning can actually free the writer to be more creative, and his chapters on writing with Motivation/Reaction units are gold.

      Anyway, I respect your opinion — I never try to write to encompass every writer and every methodology. I simply can’t, and I don’t think anyone can. l appreciate your commentary on the differences between journalism and fiction, though again it comes to a point of subjectivity. As a matter of fact, I just read a very “journalistic” novel by Tom Knox called The Genesis Secret. Highly enjoyable, and sure enough, Tom Knox is the pseudonym for the British journalist Sean Thomas!

      Thanks for the comment, and for reading!
      Nick

  9. Michael Scott says

    I disagree. People like Swain have convinced that writing to a formula is the road to success. It clearly isn’t has Swain’s lack of success proves – It’s easy to sell a concept, making it work is totally different. I have just spoken on another site about one of the most intriguing characters I’ve seen. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leah) in the Blues Brothers. For 95% of the story she has no revealed motivation. She has no reaction. She is simply (for reasons unknown) trying to kill them. When examined the character and her revealed motivation is totally irrelevant to the plot – that’s the brilliance. When we do reaction first we create intrigue. Intrigue, turns pages. In summary, Swain is trying to tell you:- The Chicken waited at the crossing. The lights changed. The chicken crossed. If it had been written this way, nobody would be asking “Why did the Chicken cross the road!”

  10. says

    This is exactly where I’m at in my editing journey…thanks I needed the inspiration. Just got the 1st round of edits back from a professional editor…wow…I totally didn’t think I had made so many mistakes structurally as well as in the details! So here’s to slugging it out…I’m sure the book will read tons better for it in the end!

  11. says

    I want to start of saying, I have finished writing my book. Now the loving editing part has took a hold of me. Thank you joane and Nick for actually putting into light that editing is just as important as writing your novel. Now I’m 23 years old an it took me 2 years to write this book. I find other people who complain about your blog really should be looking at why you are here, to give advice to newbie writers like myself. Thank you once again

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