Easy steps to stay sane while editing a full-length novel!

Writing the first draft of a full-length novel is exhausting and exhilarating, full of hope, and full of fear. Luckily for me, I’ve worked out how to stay sane while editing a full length novel – and yes it does involve chocolate 😀

I’ve completed and published two full-length novels. I have a novella, several short stories and a completely new novel on the go. It’s not a huge body of work, but already, I’ve learned a few important lessons. This is the first in a series of posts on my writing process.

For those of us who choose to independently publish, once the draft is done we have to decide whether to self edit, or pay a substantial amount for professional editing. I’m putting my hand up, and waving enthusiastically, for the merits of hiring a professional editor. And, more importantly, actually listening to her!

imageI tend to do quite a lot of backwards and forwards editing as I go, then a full length review once I’ve finished my first draft. It’s tempting to get caught up in the detail of scenes, the exact words and phrases to get the scene from my head to the page. But the most important editing at this stage is structural. And that means I need to be clear on what the story is about.

It’s a funny thing, most writers, myself included, have more trouble writing a sentence or two to describe the story then they do 100,000 words of story itself.

Writing the back cover blurb can help. At least it’s a start (that’s worthy of a post on it’s own!) to really being clear on what the story is about.

I’m more of a pantster than a plotter. Most of the time I don’t know the detail of the plot until it’s written. But once the draft is done, the plot and how well it serves the characters and their growth, is the key thing to get right.

I’m happy to admit I need the help of a professional editor.

I think most writers do. Luckily I’m very happy with my editor, Marcy Kennedy. I hire her to do a structural edit first, so I can fix any big problems before getting into the nitty gritty of the words and sentences in a line edit.

Writing a novel of 100k words takes months in time and often leaves scars, or opens long buried hurts. Sometimes scenes bleed onto a page. I’ve cried my way through death, loss and betrayal. Sending the first draft to an editor, knowing they will rip it apart, knowing they will question what isn’t clear, takes courage and determination. Reading the editors comments when they come back can feel like a punch in the guts. Like getting a class essay covered in red ink and a huge C- while the rest of the class watches and sniggers behind perfectly manicured hands.

It’s tough, but it has to be done.  I know that a fresh set of eyes, particularly professionally trained eyes in an editor I trust, will help to get the story that’s in my head out onto the page.

Truth Unveiled by Kim ClearyFor Truth Unveiled, Marcy suggested:

  • Ditch my first chapter and start at a more exciting spot in the story.
  • Tighten the plot and make the antagonist stronger, scarier.
  • Remove a subplot about poltergeists.
  • Deepen the relationship between my heroine and her love interest.
  • Use a lot more internal monologue so readers understand why my heroine makes her choices.
  • Provide a more satisfying ending with the main plot issue resolved.

Marcy provides lots of written notes, text editor comments, deletions and suggestions.

I allow about eight weeks for a rewrite. And for me it’s a solid eight weeks of work. Managing chronic fatigue becomes an issue when I’m trying to focus every day. My poor brain wants to rest, but I keep telling it to work. Until it just stops, and I tumble onto the sofa with my dogs in a jumble of sleeping bodies.

The trick to stay sane while editing?

Is being clear on what the story is about. And making sure that every scene follows a logical progression of cause and effect related to the main plot and to the characters growth. This is where time spent on writing those few sentences to describe the story, the elevator pitch, really pays dividends.

It is quite amazing on a rewrite, to realise how many tangents I’ve gone off on, how many rabbit holes I fell into, and how many gaping holes I’ve left in the story.  It may have been clear in my head… May have… But it certainly wasn’t clear in the manuscript I sent to my editor. Thankfully I can see that now, and fall in love with the story all over again!

Writing a novel is hard work.  It has moments of sheer ecstasy, glorious satisfaction when the scene comes alive on the page, and emotional rollercoasters sometimes. But nothing takes away the fact that it is sheer hard work.

In summary: I think the way to stay sane, apart from lots of coffee and chocolate (the occasional glass of wine if that tickles your fancy) is to:

  • trust your editor,
  • understand the core of your story,
  • and, enjoy the rewrite as an opportunity to get the story out!

If you are a writer I’d love to hear what you do to stay sane while editing 🙂


This article was first published on the fabulous Melbourne Romance Writers Guild Website



Kim Cleary, Author

Kim Cleary

Kim writes paranormal stories with a intrigue, suspense and a hint of romance. She loves all animals, especially her dogs; and thrives on coffee and chocolate while writing and researching.

2 thoughts on “Easy steps to stay sane while editing a full-length novel!”

  1. Marcy KennedyMarcy Kennedy

    You’re an excellent writer to work with, and I love your tip about knowing what your story is about. Finding that focus makes a huge difference.

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