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Aaron's 5 Tips for Editing a Novel (How to Edit a Novel First Draft)

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

A peaceful road with sunlight

You may wonder why I added a picture of a winding road through a grove of trees to this article. Well, that's because I found it peaceful. If you're reading this article, chances are you might be experiencing some editing stress. Before continuing, my advice is to take a moment, find something you find peaceful, and calm your nerves. Editing can be grueling, and going at it while agitated will make it worse.


1. Give Your Work Some Space.

An hour glass counting down.

I'm sure many of you have heard this a thousand times, but I'm mentioning it in case someone hasn't. You need to step away from the piece before editing. Don't write something then turn around and edit it. Odds are, you're emotionally attached to it.

I have experienced the thrill of finishing up a chapter and thinking, Wow, that was a great chapter! People are going to love it!

You're probably not wrong, but they're going to love the polished, painstakingly edited piece, not what you just wrote. Once your infatuation with it has ended, that's when you can finally start editing because you are no longer blinded by attachment. I learned this the hard way while writing "A Whisper of Wind."

Author's Tip: I recommend finishing your entire book before beginning the process. That way, you'll likely have gone at least a few weeks (if you're a novel-cranking machine) or longer since you've read the first chapter.

2. How Investing in Writing Assistant Software Could Help to Edit Your Novel's First Draft.

A robot to represent AI editing programs

Grammarly has saved me from myself on multiple occasions. If you want to improve your writing, this is a great tool to help you develop your skills. Not only is it like Word's spellcheck on steroids, but it also explains grammatical rules to you if you're unsure what it's talking about.

It is also becoming more integrable, so even as I write this post, Grammarly is checking it for errors. You can use it on Google Docs, as a plugin on your browser, or if you'd rather not use it that way, you can even copy and paste a document to their online checker. It's easy to use, and it's been worth the cost for me.

Of course, Grammarly isn't perfect, and they know it. So, to help the software evolve and adapt to your experience, they've added a few features that allow you to dispute a suggestion and/or adjust the category you're writing for (i.e., General and creative, or academic/knowledgable). All in all, I'm a huge fan of the software.

Another software I'd recommend is ProWritingAid. I use both Grammarly and this software in tandem. They are each powerful in their own way, but I thoroughly enjoy ProWritingAid for their in-depth analysis of your work. One of the things I find useful in the software is that it targets words ending in -ly and makes suggestions on writing a stronger sentence without it. It also works in Google Docs.

Author Tip: Try a trial of the software and see if you like what it does. If one feels more comfortable than the other, go with that one. I use two because I like to send a more polished work to an editor so they don't have to spend as much time on the piece, and I get it back faster. Plus, it's always good to develop your skills.

3. Reading Out Loud.

A microphone

No, you don't need to buy a mic, so don't let the picture scare you. I mean, you can if you want so you can listen to a recording, but I hate the sound of my own voice, and I know I'm not the only one.

Reading aloud was a lesson that I learned early in my writing career, and it's something I use every time I edit. Reading a piece verbally will help you iron out the bumps in your work. If you're stumbling over your words in a sentence, I'd recommend going back and polishing the sentence until it's no longer awkward. Reading to yourself internally is one thing, but reading to yourself out loud is entirely different. Give it a try!

Some of my fondest memories are from sitting down with my unbelievably supportive family members and reading chapters to them. They LOVED it. I haven't done it as much with the second because my sister has gone off to college, my brother is in another state, and my dad just started his Ph.D. program, but I hope to resume the practice in the future.

If you aren't the type to share your work until it's perfect, you can always find a quiet place away from everyone and read it to yourself. In my opinion, anything above a whisper is better because it allows you to play with your character's voices and get a feel for their personality.

Author Tip: Space this process out over time. Reading multiple chapters for hours will strain your voice, and you might experience some hoarseness if you overdo it. Take some water with you for your session!

4. Find Different Ways to Write Sentences.

Different spices to represent variety

You remember the time old saying that "variety is the spice of life," right? This is one of the times that it holds true.

Going through the motions of putting ideas on paper can bring about some rather annoying trends in writing. The time to correct those has come. Watch sentences for repetitive words, structures, and pacing.

If writing in a first-person point of view (POV), how often did you use "I" in a paragraph? Did you start multiple sentences with the same word (I walked into the store. I grabbed the newspaper to the right. I walked to the counter. I paid.)? Very rarely in my writing will you see a sentence started with the same word consecutively because I hate doing it.

The same goes for a third-person POV. She, he, they, we, and words in this category can get old fast.

I mentioned sentence structure above too, which will affect the pacing. Below is a monotonous passage, so watch out for these pitfalls while writing.

Example: Mel went into the forest. She turned into a grove. A rabbit crossed her path. She was sad.

Author Tip: Use CTRL+F to bring up "Find" and type any word to see how often you use a word. *BONUS Tip* Use a thesaurus to help you find unique replacements for overused words (don't go too crazy when doing this). Learning how to identify these issues will help you edit the first draft of your novel.

5. Join a Writer's Group.

A gathering of people.

I highly recommend joining a writer's group to help with editing. There is so much to learn from swapping critiques with other authors. I have made some awesome friends from my group, and I've even been able to read some phenomenal works before they were published. In this time, I also learned how not to write, either from being told or from reading someone else's unpolished work.

Having multiple sets of professional eyes looking at your work before it goes to another professional is invaluable. In many ways, I don't know what I would have done without my group. Yes, you have to return the favor, but it is fun to offer someone helpful advice in their story too. It's a win-win.


I hope you found a piece of helpful advice in this article. Thank you so much for reading! Please consider signing up for my newsletter to get more updates from me. Have a wonderful week, and keep writing!

-Aaron Scott Wickel

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