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How to Be Your Own Book Editor

Last time, I talked about how to get (and handle) constructive feedback on your novel without losing your mind.  If you haven’t read that post, go back and check it out.  (Hey, why not?  It’s free!)  Now, here’s how to be your own novel editor and rewrite your book manuscript like a pro.  Ready?

1)  Clone it.  
Make a new copy of your manuscript on your computer.  It’s crucial to keep a backup copy, just in case.  (Do you hear the pained voice of experience, here?  Indeed you do.)  In your new copy, cut out everything that’s “dead wood” at this point — any characters you’re going to remove, any subplots, major structural elements like that.  If you have ideas for specific new scenes you’re planning to add, put in some placeholders.  (“Car chase goes here!”  Or “He declares his love here!”  It depends on your genre.)

2)  Print that sucker out.
Punch it and put it in a gigantic 3-ring binder.  I’m partial to the old-fashioned kind with steel hinges.  They tend to last longer.  Which is good, because you’re about to put it through some serious abuse.

3)  Use your noggin.
Spend a lot of time skimming back and forth through this epic tome, looking for new ideas.  New characters, new scenes, new description, snippets of dialogue, anything.  As you come up with new material, hand-write it or type it (on a typewriter, if you’re feeling retro) on 3-hole paper and stick it right into the manuscript where it goes.  Why not use a computer for this part?  Because you want to get messy.  You want to give yourself permission to really scramble things up and possibly come up with something brand new and brilliant.  A computer is too sterile.  It makes your writing look like it’s done.  Which it’s not.  So get messy.

4)  Work it, baby.
Believe it or not, you’re rewriting your novel.  Right now.  The more time you spend on this mess, the more it will gradually transform into a shiny new draft.  It’ll be a beautiful thing, trust me.  The trick is that by doing this on paper, and flipping back and forth through the novel, you’re training your brain to handle the whole thing at once.  Sort of like a long-distance runner preparing for a marathon.  Except that you can do this in your slippers.

5)  Re-type it.
When your novel feels done (and you’ll know it when it happens), re-type the whole thing into your computer from beginning to end, fixing grammar and all of that other stuff as you go.  If you’re wondering, yes, I do wear the letters off my keyboards.

6)  Celebrate!  
You just became your own developmental story editor and revised your novel into a solid new draft.  It’s better now than ever before, I guarantee.  People will notice the difference in quality.  And by “people” I mean literary agents, editors, those sorts of people.  Way to go!

A disclaimer:  Obviously, this is the method that works best for me; your mileage may vary.  When I talk about this method of revising a novel, I get the most push-back about retyping the whole thing.  Why re-type your manuscript when it’s already in the computer? 

Because first off, if you haven’t marked up every single page of your manuscript with changes, then you haven’t edited it enough.  Trust me.  Besides, if you read a page to yourself and then re-type it, it will simply come out better.  Your brain will pick up on all of the little bumps and tend to smooth them out.  Your writing will flow more naturally, it will sound more authentic, and you’ll increase your chances of getting published.  ‘Nuff said!

Do you have a writing question?  Need a writing coach to help you solve a problem with your novel?  Just ask!  And if you try this method and like it, let me know!


  1. Chris Devlin

    Gotta admit, I can go with all of it except the re-typing it from start to finish, though I did have to do that with my novel, “Trash,” because it was on a Brother word processor and the disk didn't translate to Word. It prompted a major rewrite, so I guess it worked. I'm about to start Cold Million, the Director's Cut–I'm curious to see your method in action! Cheers.

  2. Laurence MacNaughton

    I should add a disclaimer that the re-typing has diminishing returns as you go through consecutive drafts. You're reading the 7th draft of Cold Million (or possibly the 8th, I can't remember offhand), so by that point I'm just re-typing individual scenes, not the whole book. Thanks for the read!

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