I had written the first draft of my book and put it in the freezer almost 6 weeks ago. Yesterday I took it out, and after going through a first read to note my reactions, I have decided to start work on the second draft.

But it looks like a huge task- I'm not sure where to start. Should I go chapter by chapter? If so, how much editing should I do, before moving on? There is so much work to do, and I'm worried of death by analysis paralysis.... :)

  • I hear you. I asked a similar question: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/4018/… And got a lot of good answers.
    – mitatur
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 19:26
  • 2
    @Mitaur, your question asks what to do about a weak ending. My question is, where and how do I start editing? I know what is wrong with the book, but the task looks daunting...... Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 19:56
  • The advice I gave here should help you: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/3320/… (And of course, lots of good advice from others, too.) Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 21:49
  • This question feels overly broad to me. There can be a hundred different ways - collecting feedback and changing accordingly; sequential editing; reworking major scenes and bubbling outwards from there. You can edit for consistency, for style, for plot changes. I don't see how answers could avoid boiling down to "whatever works well for you".
    – Standback
    Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 22:50

3 Answers 3


If you do not use a version control system (which you should), then make a copy of your existing draft before changing anything.

For your final edit (if there are no story changes left, all gaps closed, and the plot is in shape) read my answer here.

But this does not sound like your final edit. So whatever you do, take a chunk you can easily overview to avoid an overwhelming feeling. "Chunk" varies here from situation and task you want to achieve.

If you only edit typos and grammar, just pick the next two or three pages, correct the errors and pick the next three pages. When editing parts of the story, you have to look at the section, which defines that part. E.g. your ending sucks and it covers the last four chapters, these chapters define your chunk.

Now, it's not easy to overview four chapters. Even more complicated is the fact, that the cause for your sucking end could be somewhere in the first third of your book. If it were easy, it would be called politics.

So make it more easy to overview it by using an (guess what) overview. If you haven't got a short summary of each chapter, then write them now.

Concentrate at one task at a time, get not distracted by other problems you find on your way. Make a note, so you do not forget them.

The most important part of editing: After you made an edit, get the copy of the first draft you made at the beginning and compare your edit with the original part. Read it aloud. Both versions. The biggest problem is editing something to death. When editing, most people use their rational/logical part of their brain. That really can (but need not) ruin your story. Be aware of this trap.

Avoiding this trap needs a lot of experience. I cannot say that I have mastered it. There will be always a doubt. Maybe mastering this step is the difference between an hobbyist and a professional.

Reading aloud helps to find the better text. You hear rumbling passages easily. Silently you read over them.

Sometimes it is so obvious when comparing the text passages, that the new one is better. If in doubt, don't change anything. Or get a second opinion by a test reader.

Some authors say, rewriting stuff is so dangerous, you shouldn't do it all. If that is true for you, you have to figure out yourself. Get experience and become a better writer. I have no better advice, sorry.

  • 1
    John, so how does one avoid editing something to the death? When do you say, that is enough editing, at least for now? Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 20:14
  • @Shan: Expanded my answer. You won't like it though. Commented Sep 26, 2011 at 22:39
  • 1
    No @John, it makes perfect sense. :) It shows me this is a general problem, and not something unique to me. Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 9:04
  • @JohnSmithers - what kind of version control system would you recommend? Commented Jul 26, 2013 at 12:27
  • @aguynamedloren: Depends on your tech-savvy level. I would recommend "git", but, well, I'm a programmer. "Subversion" is probably better for beginners to understand. I can recommend that too. Subversion is out there for a much longer time, so you can call it more "mature". And it prevents the user from doing stupid things. Git has a feature to "re-arrange" the history of your repository. That's an expert feature you probably never need, but which can mess up your repository if you use it by mistake. So if in doubt use Subversion. Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 8:53

Read through your draft. If anything catches your eye, fix it or flag it for fixing later. Fix whatever you can.

Then hand it off to a beta reader. Let someone else mark it up for problems. I find that nothing helps me to see the problems in a work faster than having an outside perspective. Then you read through your beta's notes and decide which changes to make.

You know, in your head, what you want to do with the story, but you need to know if someone else who is only reading the words on the page feels that the goal has been accomplished.


Have your written your synopsis? If not that is the place to start. Writing a synopsis (which will be used to get an agent/publisher interested) will often reveal areas that need attention.

Have you written your blurb (think of it as your 30 second/elevator advertisement) if not that is another place to start.

Have you started trying to find an agent/publisher? If you have and you don't have either of the above done and in your query letter- STOP- write them.

If you are gung-ho to re-write then work on the first three chapters because and agent/publisher typically wants to see them first. That is where to put your re-write/editing time and effort. There is no use editing page 673 if you don't get the agent's attention with page ONE- unless you are a glutton for punishment.

  • The OP doesn't mention anything about publishing, and if they're anything like me, their novel desperately needs a second draft completed before it'll be ready to start shopping around. (My first draft, when complete, will be almost completely unsellable.) Your suggestions might actually be valuable (working on a synopsis is a great way to find structural problems), but you've focused so much on the publishing end of things that it seems unimportant to writers who aren't looking at publishing, or who know their work needs editing before they want to try publishing.
    – Jerenda
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 15:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.