Editing is not a glamorous job (but someone has to do it)

I’m in the process of editing my first novel. It’s proving to be a painful process, akin to having teeth pulled. Wherever possible, I pretend that the novel is ‘resting’, not to be disturbed, like a sleeping baby. I pick up my new(ish) novel, which is far more exciting, because I’m still in the glorious process of creating words, not fiddling with them. At some stage, though, I’ll have to get back to that first novel. The sleeping baby will need to be awoken.

I’d like to say that I’m at the final edit stage, better known as proof reading, when all I have to do is spot a few misspelled words and make sure the commas are in the right place. Life would be plain sailing.

I’m actually right at the beginning, at the structural edit stage – and therein lies the rub. A structural edit is the most time-consuming and complex stage of the writing process. It’s about looking at the bigger picture to make sure, for example, the plot makes sense, the characters are well developed, point of view is consistent and the story flows well. Scratching your head over whether the third chapter should actually be your first chapter is all part of the process. So too is deciding whether your main character catches the ferry from Dover instead of Portsmouth.

What’s more, until you’ve undergone a structural edit – either professionally or with the help of your writing friends, there’s little point in employing a copy editor. A copy editor will focus on spelling, accuracy, inconsistencies and grammar, but will not look not focus on the broad stuff. If you decide to change your novel’s structure after a copy edit, you’ll have to go through the process all over again.

After I’ve finished the structural edit, I will put my feet up with a celebratory pot of tea, safe in the knowledge that I can pass my literary baby to a professional copy editor. When that stage has been completed, I’ll make sure it goes through a final proof reading stage to correct typos that have somehow managed to slide in. Only then, will I be happy that my words can be turned into a book for others to read.

Sue Watts

Photo Credit: https://litreactor.com/columns/the-art-of-the-content-edit


  1. Not everyone realizes that there are ‘edits’ and ‘edits’ – structural, copy, proof… all requiring different skills and experience. Thanks for clarifying! And aren’t we lucky to live in a world of computers, rather than having to write, type, correct and retype, as in the olden days of typewriter ribbon and Tippex!


  2. Technology certainly makes life easier, but where will be the history of the process of writing and editing literature in the years to come? I remember looking at original manuscripts in the British Library — everything from novels to poems to pop songs — which showed how the writer had altered the whole feel of a piece with a word change here or a wholesale re-write there. Should we be keeping the evidence on backup files somewhere?


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