The First Step to Edit Your Novel (It's Not What You Think)

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Whether you are on the heels of NaNoWriMo or just completed your novel independently, you are probably experiencing one of two sets of feelings: relief and exhaustion or excitement and motivation.

Both are good and natural reactions, and no matter how thrilled or tired you feel right now, you know that eventually, you will have to go back to your draft and start editing. But where to start?

The first step to edit your novel is not what you think.

Step #1: Don’t Work on Your Book

Yes, you read that right. Don’t work on your book, don’t read your book, and don’t even think about your book if you can help it!


Whether you spend one month or six years on your book, you know it inside and out. That includes what is on the page and what is not on the page.

If you were to go back and read your story right after you finished writing it, you read what you wrote, and your brain would fill in the gaps. You would see every detail of your sci-fi space cruiser and know exactly what your woodland elf looks like even though you never wrote it on the page.

By taking a break from your book, you allow your brain to create distance between you and the book. When the story and details aren’t as fresh in your mind, you will be able to read more of what is only on the page and see those plot gaps, missing details, or subtle contradictions.

For those of you who are relieved and exhausted after finishing your book, this is great news! You cannot wait to take a break and reward yourself for a job well done. And you certainly should. But don’t let that break go on forever.

I wrote the first draft of the first book in my Kingdom Chronicles story during a previous year of NaNoWriMo. When December 1st came, I was relieved and ready to take a break. The problem? I didn’t come back to my draft until many months later. I lost my motivation and momentum.

There is a simple fix to this that I now implement: set a deadline.

If you can, take at least one to two weeks off from your book. For those of you who are excited and motivated to keep on working and fear losing that, this might be all the break that you want to take, and that’s fine just so long as you do make some distance.

If you’re not on a deadline, try for four weeks, but I don’t recommend any longer than that unless you are working on your next book in the meantime. Remember, too much time away makes it even harder to start back up.

So, let’s say that you finished your draft on November 30th, and you want to wait until after the holidays to start editing. You set your deadline to start back to work on January 2nd.

Now, it’s up to you to hold yourself to that deadline. Write it on a sticky note and put it on your computer, write it on your bathroom mirror, or tell someone who can hold you accountable. Do whatever you have to do to make sure that on January 2nd, you start editing that draft.

If you give yourself some time away from your book and set a deadline to get back to it, your editing will be better and more detailed.

Do you have a draft that you’ve just completed? Tell us about it in the comments below and share your deadline to start editing. Sometimes, putting it out on the World Wide Web is enough to get us motivated.

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