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How To Self-Edit Your Novel: First Draft

Updated: Apr 24, 2020

Do you love to write but hate to edit? Do you look at your completed first draft and feel overwhelmed with where to start? Let me give you a word of encouragement and some tips to get that red pen in your hand with confidence. Then, I'll give you eleven tips to do today to get you started on editing your first draft!

Do you love to write but hate to edit?  Do you look at your completed first draft and feel overwhelmed with where to start? Let me give you a word of encouragement, and some tips to get that red pen in your hand with confidence. Then, I'll give you eleven tips to do today to get you started on editing your first draft! Jump in the Way with Katrina D Hamel. Image Credit to Jeshoots-com on Unsplash

First off, I've been where you are!

I've been busy editing my novel for months now. I walked into this process feeling just as overwhelmed as you do right now. I am by no means a "real" editor, but I have learned so much through the process of preparing my novel for publication. And you will too! The effort you put into editing your first novel is a classroom all on its own.

The main tools you absolutely need to self-edit

1. The desire to grow in your writing skills.

2. A willingness to learn.

3. Patience.

Really, that's it! The rest you will learn as you go, and you'll be a better writer for it!

But, won't your publisher hire an editor for you? Why should you learn to self-edit?

To even be considered by a publisher, you need to present a few chapters. If the agent or publisher is stumbling over a clumsy plot, lazy writing, typos, and confusing punctuation, they will toss it to the side and move on to the next submission. We're not talking about perfection, of course. Good editing is about clearing away anything that might distract from the message.

You might need/want to self-publish. In this day and age, it is easier than ever to get your book published all on your own. If you go this route, you need to have your best possible foot forward to stand out among the myriad of self-published novels hitting Amazon's virtual shelves.

If you're paying an editor out of your own pocket, you can save money if they're working with an already polished work. I hired someone to help me with proof-reading, meaning they checked for errors in punctuation and grammar, but that's it.

Self-editing improves your overall skill as a writer. I learned to tidy my plots, sharpen my word choice, and cut away excess so that my story can shine, and I can say what I really mean.

Like I said before, I'm not an editor. I'm just a girl who knuckled down and decided that I can do this! Most of the skills I learned to self-edit came from all over the internet in the form of "writing tips". As writers we can never stop honing our craft.

Okay, let's get to those eleven tips I promised!

First off, the first novel I published is not the first I've tried to write. The reason I was able to crunch out a novel in a year (while parenting four kids and working full-time from home as a child care provider) is because I kept moving forward. Think about it, why rewrite Chapter Six eight times till it's perfect when you might scrap it in the second draft? Getting your first draft finished is the confidence boost you need to believe that YOU are a writer.

In your first draft, the goal is to test the plot and characters.

So don't stop to edit, just write it out! This is the consensus of every tip I have read, anywhere. And it works! When I wrote my first draft, it was rough. The dialogue was stiff, the characters were flat, and the descriptions were way too flowery. But the bones were there! I sighed with satisfaction and then put the first draft aside so that I could come back to it with fresh eyes.

When you're done your first draft, (or if you're done already!) take a step back. Don't even peek at it for at least two weeks, or even a month!

Go outside. Hang out with friends and family. Read some of your favorite books in the same genre. (Not to copy or compare, but to inspire you! What do you love about your favorite books that you want to include in your own?)

Come back with fresh eyes, read your story through, and take notes on the BIG picture. Don't re-write or make the edits at this point.

Here are eleven things to ask yourself as you read your first draft (in no particular order)

  1. Are there plot holes that make no sense? Loose ends that need tying up? Weird side trails that were pointless?

  2. Did something emerge in the story that I really like, that I want to bring out more?

  3. Does my protagonist have clear desires, and I did I throw enough hurdles in their way to hinder them from reaching their goals/desires?

  4. Do my characters make realistic choices, or am I making them ridiculously obtuse or relying on my characters stubbornly keeping a "secret that will wreck everything" to further the tension/plot?

  5. Are my history/facts accurate? (Even if it is a fictional history, does it stay true to itself?)

  6. Are my physical descriptions matching throughout? (hair color, where a town is located etc.)

  7. Does my antagonist have a realistic reason for working against the protagonist? Their own goals and desires? Did I give them good attributes too? (No one is wholly evil in this world.)

  8. If I were to cut such-and-such chapter or section, would it affect the overall story? (If you can cut a section with no damage to the storyline or character development, this is a broad hint to delete it, no matter how beautiful it is.)

  9. Are my side characters bringing out some attribute of my protagonist or antagonist, or are they just taking up space because I like them?

  10. Did my main characters grow from the beginning of the story to the end?

  11. Does my plot have a build-up to an exciting climax when things seem like it all might fall apart for my characters?

After you've read through and made some notes, copy and paste your manuscript into a new file, and save this new copy as Draft Two. This was SO IMPORTANT for me.

It gave me the confidence to hack and slash my precious story because I could always revert a section back to the original. It was incredibly freeing! It's also really encouraging when you're working on your final edits to go back to the original and see how much your writing has improved!

I hope these helped! If you'd like me to go into more detail on a specific point, let me know!

If you're ready for the next step in your writing journey, take a look at 7 self-edits that will help your characters shine!


About the Author
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Hey There!

I'm Katrina, and I'm a wife, mom, and a Christian Historical Fiction Author. 

I love words. I love digging into hard questions. I'm passionate about writing stories of faith.

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