How to Edit a Draft in 3 Steps: Learn to Self-Edit Your Book

My first advice for someone that wants to edit their book is to first FINISH the first draft.

The first draft is always messy. Even when you outline.

You can make it cleaner or a complete explosion. The editing process is how you make sense of things.

But, first, you must know what happens in the story from the beginning to the end. Otherwise, you might start editing and then you realize that you’ll actually want to scrap that scene. Then, you lost a lot of time. Editing is hard work, so it’s better that you do it when you’re sure the scene will fit in your first draft.

I have a complete article about editing your draft here.

But, in this article, I want to teach you how to edit a draft in 3 steps. If you’re looking for something simple yet the best editing advice that I have to give, then, you’ve come to the right place.

I also want to say that these tips are directly from Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass in the class about editing.

How to Edit a Draft in 3 Steps

Step number one:

  • Fresh eyes are the most important thing you can have for editing your draft, even as a measure to prevent burnout.

It’s hard to know if what you wrote is not good or if you’re simply tired of it.

I know that this tip is everywhere but it is really the most important thing you can give yourself. Time. Forget what you’ve written. And this will bring you to the second most important tip:

Step number two:

  • Pretend you’re a different person. You haven’t written that. Another person did. You’re just reading it.

I know this sounds mad but try to forget that you’re the writer of that piece. Pretend you’re one of your readers. This is actually one thing that Neil Gaiman emphasizes a lot in his class.

Step number three:

  • Print your manuscript and go over it.

It helps a lot to see your writing in a different form than the one you’ve written. It’s just like looking at it with fresh eyes. You’ll look at it in a new different way, different than ever.

When editing, have in mind:

The most important thing you must have in my mind is the answer to this question:

What is my story about? What is my major dramatic question?

As a writing exercise, write the answer to these questions:

  • My major dramatic question is:
  • The conflict around it is:
  • The ending is:

And, then, cut everything that doesn’t resonate to these three things. What is the main event of the story? This will be what the story is about. Every story can be summed up to this. For example, in romance, the main event is their relationship. The conflict is forming the relationship. And the ending usually is a happily ever after.

In Lord of The Rings: the main event is Frodo taking the ring to Mordor to destroy it. Everything around it builds conflict that relates to the main event. The ending has to answer the main event. Was he able to do it?

It doesn’t mean that your story will have only one arc of events or conflict. But the minor “subplots” have to advance the main event, the main plot. Look at LOTR. They go through MANY smaller conflicts and events, but all, in the end, comes to Frodo getting the ring to Mordor.

Writing exercise

Try to list these 3 points of the 3 stories that you love the most.

  • My major dramatic question is:
  • The conflict around it is:
  • The ending is:

Now, it’s your turn. Get your story and answer this.

Edit out everything that is not used to advance the main plot.

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