Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ask the Editor - Question from Free For All Tuesday

Terri, one of the writers who follows this blog, asked this question on our Free For All Tuesday post earlier this month: "I'm certainly not opposed to hiring an editor. I'd love one. But I realize I must do a lot of fixing up before I'm even ready for that. My question was about how a writer would go about editing after the first draft of a novel. After I get that done, I'll pray for the money to go the next step and hire an editor."

I had to laugh at her comment that she would pray for the money to hire an editor. If you find some benefactors, Terri, send them my way. I need to hire an editor for my next book.

I take a 3-step approach to editing after finishing the first draft, looking first at the big picture. Is the story holding together? Are the characters consistent? Does the time-line make sense?

Then I start looking at individual scenes to see where things can be tightened and improved. The final go-through is for more detailed editing, mostly grammar issues.

That is the super-condensed response to your question, and for more help I would suggest you read some of our previous blogs about editing. There have been a number of them that readers have said they saved off as good resources for self-editing. Here is one that has TEN QUICK TIPS.

Here's a post that I did with tips from an editing workshop I used to do. This one covers what I call THE FISH CLEANING approach to editing.

More tips from my EDITING WORKSHOP.

Another good post with QUICK TIPS.

And finally, a new contributor here at The Blood Red Pencil, Scott, had this to offer in response to the question: Wow, whole books have been written about that subject! My recommendation would be to set it aside for a while, a few weeks or more, before returning to the edit. There would be books I'd recommend, like Chris Roerden's "Don't Sabotage Your Submission," as a guide, but I think distance is the main challenge. Also, if you edit when you're cranky, you're more likely to get ruthless about the cuts.

Hmmm. I'm always cranky during edits, but I'm not sure that has made me ruthless.

Feel free to chime in here and offer Terri some more tips.

Posted by Maryann Miller, who has been on both sides of the editing table and appreciates a good editor. Visit Maryann's Web site for information about her editing services and her books. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play farmer on her little ranch in East Texas.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Thanks for the collection of helpful links! I'll bookmark them for revision time. :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. A library of links! How great is that?
    So much in one post.
    Giggles and Guns

  3. These my tips on fixing the first draft of a novel, assuming that it probably needs more work than a quick pass:

    1. Don't fuss about the grammar and the punctuation at this point. You may have to do a lot of work and you could introduce more typos. No sense in doing twice the work. I always save this part for the very last--after I've revised extensively and then edited.

    2. Pick a problem you're aware of and start working through it. If it's too hard to figure out right now, you might need to think on it further--or fix something else first--skip to another problem.

    3. Things to search for: Overuse of the word look; overuse of eyes; overuse of nodding; and an insidious one--repetition. It's very easy to say something and then say it again later in the same paragraph.

    4. Places where you left things hanging and didn't resolve them.

    5. Any unanswered questions (either answer them or weed them out).

    6. Weak subplots that need more development.

    I could probably come up with a ton of these, because the little things are all different to each writer. Some write a first draft without hardly any narrative and have to add it; others don't don't do much with the description and have to work it. I've had to go through a draft and look for setting and work that better into the story. I've also had to make an idiom pass. Right now, I'm doing a E-Prime pass and removing was from the narrative (this is NOT for beginners). Pretty much, you fix whatever needs to be fixed to make it work.

  4. Thanks for adding your suggestions, Linda. The more tips we have the better for our readers.

  5. Don't forget Patricia's great story arc blog post. A great way to see where you need to prop up your story with that cool rating system. Maryann, we should add that to the links, too.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook