8 Steps All Writers Follow When They Edit

Every author has a different approach to writing. I know this because I read Rebecca Bradley’s wonderful series on how writers do their thing. Each author she spotlights adds a personal twist that intrigues me.

Not so surprisingly, no one’s approach is like mine. Here’s how I write a novel:

  • Draft out events for the novel in a spreadsheet program like Excel. This gives me room to add columns and rows with new information, new ideas, notes to track an event through the story. Here’s what my spreadsheet for my latest WIP looks like:

plot with Excel

  • JK Rowling’s is low-tech, but still an obvious spreadsheet:

jk rowlings plot

  • Convert the draft to a word processing program like MS Word. Mine is usually 70+ pages.
  • Add details about timing, setting, characters, clothing, transitions, chapter breaks.
  • Start at the beginning and read for flow, timing, pacing. Edit diligently. I do this a day at a time. I finish a day’s worth of editing and start over the next day, repeating the process. Eventually, when I read to edit, it sounds fine (kind of) so I move on to the next part. I like this because I get some sense of continuity for the story. Otherwise, I forget what happened when. It sometimes takes until the third or fourth day of editing the same section to realize the character’s voice changed or s/he wouldn’t have said whatever I have coming out of his/her mouth.
  • Continue until I finish the entire manuscript
  • Search for obnoxious words like is, was, that, there, thing and change them. I’m identifying words that make the story passive, difficult to understand, and/or boring. I actually have a long list of them so it takes me a full twelve-hour day
  • Repeat the edit process(often, three-six full read-throughs) until the flow, pacing, and timing are fine and I feel it’s ready to submit.

99.9% of you are saying, Gee. That’s not how I do it. And that’s OK. There are rarely two writers who follow the same method and lots are successful. Find an approach that works for you and use it until it doesn’t. But, there are eight editing tricks we all use in some form. See if you agree:

  1. Ignore the fat lady if she starts warming up. Keep writing. You know what you’re doing and you’re going to do it well.
  2. Keep your pet snake around to greet detractors. Or tarantula, or scorpion. Whatever you have that will keep naysayers outside your orbit.
  3. Expect other people to get out of your way, do your chores, bring you coffee to keep you going as you prepare your Baby. Whatever they’re doing couldn’t be as important as writing a d*** novel.
  4. Repeat this mantra–Editing problems are only opportunities with thorns.
  5. When you scream at your mate (when s/he interferes with your writing) and s/he accuses you of needing anger management, remind her/him that the only help you need is for them to shut the f*** up
  6. Offer a crazed smile when people interrupt. That’ll back them off.
  7. When distractions call, let them go to voice mail.
  8. If you get unwanted visitors, quote Oscar Wilde–“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.

Lest you think I’m the only one who writes like this, check out Gina Holmes at Novel Rocket or Adam Blumer here.

More about editing:
15 BIG Writing Blunders
How to Edit Your Novel (according to Yuvi)
10 Tips Guaranteed to Rescue Your Story
Book Review: Self-editing for Fiction Writers


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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14 thoughts on “8 Steps All Writers Follow When They Edit

  1. Reblogged this on Matt Roberts and commented:
    This is great stuff. Apparently my approach is to have an idea, let it sit in my head for 10+ years, write some of it, never go back to it. Repeat. I wish someone had a full proof method to get everyone around you to understand when writing time is, and to shut the f*** up during that time. Aside from locking yourself in a safe. I need to invest in a safe.

    • You’re so funny. The only way around interruptions is to wait until children grow up, move out, and leave you alone because you’re far too boring for their 20-something time.

      Thanks for the reblog!

      • I don’t have kids that I’m aware of. I just have a wife, who doesn’t want to talk to me until she hears my keyboard tapping away. Then she knows I’m busy and caught up in writing and hate being interrupted, so she interrupts me.

  2. I really like your Excel drafting idea and think I may try it on my next project. Is there a template or something you use in Excel? Also, would you be willing to share the headings of your columns?
    I began this draft of my current project using the snowflake method, and I found that to be very useful as well.

    • I can’t figure out how to attach an image here. Hmmm…. The columns are what you see in the image. I do merge rows so I can quickly move from one day to the next.

      So–what’s the snowflake method? Sounds intriguing.

      • You write one sentence that summarizes the main story. Then turn that sentence into five. Then each of those give sentences turn into its own give sentence paragraph that would be a decent summary of the main plot with hints at sub plots.

        • That’s interesting. I can see how it would work.

          • It definitely helped me flesh out an idea I had so it could become a full story. It also showed me that I was in need of a new character to fill an empty point in the plot before I actually began drafting. Now, being just shy of 10,000 words into the project, I have already diverged from the snowflake paragraphs a bit, but it is still very helpful.

      • Can I also ask how you get the paragraphs in the cell in Excel? I haven’t been able to figure out how to do that short of pressing the space bar a bunch of times.

        • I have the text wrap (it’s a tool on the toolbar). Sometimes it auto-sizes, other times I have to manually make the row bigger. Doesn’t take much to do that.

          To force a new line–push Alt+enter (that’s probably what your question really was!)

  3. The excel file sounds like a great idea! I’ll definitely have to try that out with my current project.

  4. Boiled down to this: get organized, then write like hell.
    Right?
    Love it.

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