Editing: The Path is a Spiral


staircase spiral


by Morgan S. Hazelwood


Writing versus Editing Milestones

I find writing milestones to be more encouraging than editing ones. There’s a finite-ness to it.

It’s easy to know when you’ve achieved your word count targets when you’re writing a draft.

Sure, you may have gone off the rails. This chapter might get cut in revisions. That whole side-quest may be removed. Your ending might be completely wrong for your book. But all that writing helps you with world building, with discovering truths about your characters that you never knew, and you take that with you. Even when those words are cut or changed.

It’s hard to know if you’ve finished editing a chapter.

There’s so many different things to think about. You can edit the same chapter 12 times and still have things you haven’t thought of.


Things To Edit

  1. Make the sentences coherent.
  2. Check the spelling
  3. Check the grammar
  4. Replace crutch/hedge words (just, only, very, to-be verbs)
  5. Replace passive voice
  6. Change adjectives, verbs, and analogies to be evocative of the mood the scene should set.
  7. Map out the story and see if the chapter is necessary. If so, maybe it’s in the wrong place.
  8. Cut the parts of the chapter that aren’t necessary – for character building, world building, or plot advancement.
  9. Add in parts of the chapter that are missing – for character building, world building, or plot advancement.
  10. Read the dialogue to make sure each character sounds unique and true to themselves
  11. Have a few people read it and let you know if it makes sense! Combine their reviews and follow the consensus (plus grammar/spelling)
  12. Tell your friends and family that you’re about to start another draft and that the books still not ready to be published.
  13. … start over again!

All you’re left to do is to remind yourself that each iteration gets you closer to where you want to be.

As Hermann Hesse wrote in Siddhartha:

“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.”




Guest post contributed by Morgan Hazelwood. Morgan is currently working on the fantasy coming-of-age adventure Flesh and Ink. These days, when not writing, you can find her devouring book series on her kindle, hitting the gym, dressing up at local conventions, or feeding her web comic addiction. She also lends her voice to Anansi Storytelling – a radio-style podcast of folk tales from around the world.

29 thoughts on “Editing: The Path is a Spiral

  1. Reblogged this on Michael Seidel, writer and commented:
    I enjoy articles such as this one by Morgan Hazelwood, posted on Ryan Lanz’s site. I’m always striving to improve my understanding of my processes. What Morgan describes here is something that I consider in separate categories of polishing, revising and editing.

    When I encounter articles like this, I cut and paste them with the date and the author’s name and other source information into a document of my own, “Michael’s Big Doc of Writing and Editing”.

    Of note with respect to the list here. I often ‘know’ when reading when the character doesn’t act or sound true. My bigger concern is that they all sound like they’re not sufficiently unique and fresh.

    The other part I’m always addressing is pacing. I’m forever worried about pacing, largely because I enjoy verisimilitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    I don’t see a difference between writing and editing. As soon as my words leave the keyboard, they’re subject to change. The process continues until I think to myself, I could do more but it won’t improve the text. (One year later, I reread the published product and realize I was wrong).

    I understand Morgan’s frustration, though. How do you feel?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a helpful checklist! Much of it helps me even though I write mainly non-fiction…

    I love the Hesse quote re the spiral path going ever upwards. Another analogy I thought of, pertaining to editing, is the sharpening of a pencil. The unsharpened pencil could be our first (very!) rough draft. As we edit, the honing of the pencil becomes sharper and sharper, until we end up with a very fine point indeed! At least, that’s our goal, right?

    I also had an idea when reading Michael Seidel’s interesting comment, re characters sounding/acting true, and whether they’re unique or fresh enough. Since I’m new to fiction, I think I will try employing a technique used in virtually all TV series. Every show has a ‘bible’ which describes each character, i.e. what they would or wouldn’t do in any given situation, their likes and dislikes, etc. These descriptions are so detailed that reading it you’d almost think the characters being described were real people!

    I think this could be very helpful for novels too. For short stories, my guess is we could manage to remember the characters’ traits; but for a novel, especially a long, sprawling one populated with many characters, it would be good to have a precise description to which we could refer.
    This would ensure that each character is well and consistently differentiated.

    As for ‘freshness’ – hmm… well I guess I would say, rather than “Marie was from a poor family,” maybe: “Marie was always afraid to answer the phone – it could be another bill collector!”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Having been through countless rounds of edits on my current manuscript, I definitely understand this! Some days, it feels like I’m going in circles and I have to remind myself that it’s getting better. There is an upward trajectory.

    Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

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