Posted by: Vanessa Barneveld | December 3, 2009


Each year during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), hardy authors from around the world challenge themselves to writing a 50,000-word novel. No editing, no daydreaming–just writing. This past November, participants clocked up a total of 2,147,483,647 words.

So I guess this means thousands of just-completed manuscripts are ready to shoot into the inboxes of agents and editors. As someone who used to submit prematurely and paid the price (insta-rejection), take my advice—don’t send your book now that you’ve got a beginning, middle and–yay!–end. Not yet. You Nano folk have earned yourselves a break. Relax! Let the book hibernate for as long as you can; a week at the very least. A year-long separation is even better. If you can barely remember the names of your main characters after a while, that’s a good sign it’s safe to jump back into the pages.

I’m always experimenting with new ways to revise/edit my work. Sometimes I do several reads–one to see if the story hangs okay, another time to concentrate on characterisation, yet another pass to check the mechanics like punctuation, spelling and grammar. Then I arm myself with chocolate and get stuck into revising. Soon enough, I’m thoroughly sick of the book and can’t wait to start on something new.

This is my current editing routine:

  1. Print out the book. Read the book and at the same time, write a mini-synopsis for each scene and/or chapter. Plot a timeline of events. Jot down anything that jumps out, like repetitions and inconsistencies. Don’t fix anything until I’ve completed the first read-through.
  2. Flesh out descriptions, inject strong verbs, add tension, beef up the emotion. Strike unnecessary words and speech tags. Weed out weak writing. Does every scene advance the plot? Does the story even make sense? Is my heroine a dingbat? My hero a sap?
  3. Grammar and spellcheck. Verify facts.
  4. Let it rest again, but maybe not as long as that initial hibernation period. Read it, tweak it, then pass it on to critique partner/s for further dissection.

If you’re a writer, how many drafts do you typically suffer through before you think the book is ready for submission? What are your editing tips?



  1. Congratulations to all the Na no’s- well done!
    I find that once I have the book finished- warts and all- about a month is just enough time to let it ‘settle’ if I’m in a hurry. However the one I’ve just finished the final final draft and submitted has been floating around in various stages of editing for 3 years.
    Depends on the book!

  2. Oh Vanessa, I notice how neatly you didn’t mention how you got on during the Nano month. Hope that means you’ve been so busy you simply forgot!

    I’m currently revising my book ready to send to my editor. Sigh, sadly I need to rewrite the final chapter. But somehow that has a certain symmetry. A little while ago I chopped out ch 2!

    Love your tips for editing. Especially using time on your side to come in with fresh eyes. That works for me though often I don’t get as much time as I want. Fortunately I have a crit partner who’s always eagle-eyed and picks up a lot of things.

    I always read through in hard copy. I pick up more errors that way. I have plenty of paper for scribbled notes and coloured post it notes to mark particular areas to check. If I’ve got a list of specific things to fix I highlight them and mark them off when they’re done. I tend to work on everything in one go and not move onto a new scene till I’ve got it all pretty right (except for checking specific bits of research). When I’ve finished I do a final spell check and then sleep on it before sending in case something about the text niggles at me in the night. Hey, it’s been known to happen.

    Thanks for the post, Vanessa. Very timely and it’s got me thinking about how to tackle this next section.

  3. Hiya, Ellie. Congrats on getting the final final draft done! You must be soooo relieved! Three years of editing is a long time! Did you work on it with your editor?

  4. Annie, I know you’ll do a brilliant job with your current book’s ending. Thanks for sharing your process. Congrats on your latest gong–a spot on B&N top books of 2009!

    I am very familiar with your CP’s eagle eye. She’s saved me a few times too!

    Actually, (shuffles feet) I didn’t participate in Nano this year but I sympathise with all who did. I’ve done Book in a Week, and that’s a pretty big challenge.

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