Edit Your Novel in 4 Steps

Edit your novel in four drafts.

Pulling your hair out wondering how to self edit your novel? Then look no further. Read on to learn about my four step editing process. Here is how I do it in three stages.

First Draft

Unleash your untethered creativity in your first edit.

Think of your first draft as a bush being allowed to grow as it wants: with wild flowers, thorns and overgrown vines. At the first draft stage, you can unleash all of your untethered creativity without worrying. At this point, it is a blank canvas that you can fill with anything that you want to and no matter what, it should be a fun process. Its impulsive like scratching an itch! I enjoy letting my stories carry me where they want to at this point and also seeing where conversations between characters go. Now is the time to say what you want, create the characters you want and make them behave how you want- or how they want for that matter!

The only rule to heed in order to edit your novel at this point is a rough plot line. You need a protagonist dilemma or yearning for something which pushes the story forward. This also gives momentum to the relationships that your protagonist has with others.

 you also need to build towards something significant. Anything before this is a steady climb up a roller coster but with your first draft, its a journey that you can build organically without worrying about narrative rules.

You can plan your writing or write spontaneously. My own writing process consists of a bit of both and I find that the combination of these two techniques keeps my writing sessions fresh and varied:

Second draft

Make scenes more dynamic in your second edit.

Here is where you do your pruning. At this point that overgrown, beautifully untethered bush (your first draft) will need some TLC. With your second draft edit, you will need to begin to tame and shape it. Check out my previous article, editing tips to keep you motivated to drive you forward at this stage.

Although the second edit should be fun, this is where you will need to employ the most mental muscle to edit your novel during the second draft process. I liken it to spring cleaning- you get to move things around and still be creative at this point. Not only are you weeding out the extra fluff, but you actually get to make scenes more dynamic or intriguing by reconstructing character conversations and enhancing the descriptions of settings. Now is the time to do your narrative justice!

Top tips

  • Look out for inauthentic dialogue. Would someone really say this? Do I really need to add those slang words which might age my work down the line?
  • Think about the overall shape and pace of the story. Does it take too long to get to the action? Are the peripheral characters given enough or too much screen time in the story?
  • Are you creating empathy for the right characters? Or do you want to leave this up to your readers to decide who they are rooting for?
  • Do you have chunks of text that need to be scrapped altogether and left on the cutting room floor?
  • Do you have scenes that would be better featured at a different stage in the narrative?

Once you have taken all of these editing factors into consideration and applied them where necessary, you are onto your third edit.

Third Draft

Success at fixing major structural issues on the third edit.

Hopefully, if you have followed all of the points above to edit your novel, you will have achieved considerable success at fixing any major structural issues. Look at your third draft as a polishing exercise. By now, anything that needs to be adjusted should hopefully stand out clearly as you edit your novel.

The third edit will require you to make executive judgements about things like dialogue and tone. It’s time to sweep up or tweak any unfitting or inauthentic dialogue and see what needs adjusting in places. Your third edit will enable you to cement the overall feel and direction of your story and it is pretty exciting to see your work really come together.

Fourth Draft

Your fourth and final draft will be of a much less creative nature. Think of this as the polishing and dusting phase. Now is the time to employ your proofreading skills: look out for grammatical and spelling errors. Check for any jarring repetition of certain adjectives and adverbs. Once this final sweeping process is over you can go back over and read your work and hopefully enjoy doing so!

If you want to see the end result of this four step editing process, you can ready my short story Filling the Void here.

How do you find the editing process? Is it something you don’t mind doing or do you dread it everytime? Let me know in the comments below.

11 thoughts on “Edit Your Novel in 4 Steps

  1. Nancy

    I love that you outlined the steps to edit a novel. I like that the tips highlight some of the thoughts from the reader’s perspective. Sometimes, what we think may not translate to paper well, so it is definitely worth asking those questions. Thanks for sharing an overview of the process!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

  2. Charity

    I have never wrote a novel before, but this is fantastic information for anyone who is trying to right now. Thanks for sharing all your tips and tricks!

  3. Jaya Avendel

    I love the bush-to-prune-to-flower example! As a writer who has written novels, I finally realize all my first drafts are basically fancy and elaborate outlines. By the second draft, I know what needs to happen, and by the third draft I am ready to heartlessly prune what I know has to go.

    Thanks for sharing your top tips for editing!

    1. Writerlygem Post author

      Thank you, I’m glad you like my analogy! I always let lose in my first drafts and so they’re always these messy untethered, tangled pieces of work.
      It just means I can have fun doing all the trimming in the next two drafts.

  4. Britt K

    This is some great advice. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone break it down in such an easy to follow way. I’m sure that this is going to be SUPER valuable for those that are just working to break out in the writing world.

  5. Lisa

    As a gardener, I very much appreciate the horticultural-writing analogy – I’ve never written a book (nor am I likely to!) but I agree, creating a thing of beauty takes time. Great tips, really insightful!

  6. Sophie Wentworth

    Great tips, and I’m sure they’ll come in handy as more people are working on their projets with the increased time on their hands. Editing is always the hardest part of any project – and you feel like you’re going a bit mad after you’ve reread everything for the hundredth time x



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