Editing Your Writing: The Editing Process

Updated on December 27, 2018
Laura335 profile image

I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.

Editing markers.


Completing A First Draft Never Means You're Finished

There is no less accurate depiction of a writer than when they are shown typing away on their computer or typewriter before typing, "the end," sliding their chair back, and announcing that they are finished. It’s a bit insulting, especially considering the fact that the scene was written by a writer who most likely did not do that when they were finished writing the script that contained that moment. Who are they trying to fool?

Finishing a first draft means that you are no more than halfway done with that specific piece of writing. Everything from poems, news articles, short stories, screenplays, scripts, and novels requires extensive editing. First drafts are filled with typos, grammatical errors, clumsy language, confusing ideas, and unnecessary or missing content from even the best writers.

When I’m on a roll and ideas are flowing, I write or type like I’m in a race. Every thought in my head makes it to the page, especially when I lose focus or need to end quickly due to time constraints. If I were to print out a piece of writing directly after I finished typing it up and handed it to someone to read aloud, I would be mortified by what would come out of their mouth. That's why knowing how to edit is so important.

Handwritten pages to edit as they are typed.

The first draft of what would become this three-part article series.
The first draft of what would become this three-part article series. | Source

Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Edit

Once you have everything down on paper, you just need to start reading. But what are you specifically looking for in your reading. Should you edit everything at once or just focus on one area for each edit (ex. spelling, format, length, etc.)?

It’s ultimately up to you, but it’s in your best interest to focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise, you could miss something crucial. While you will be looking over your content multiple times, focusing on one aspect of the text to edit will keep you from becoming overwhelmed or rushing through and not catching everything that needs to be corrected.

The next question is how many times should you look over a piece before it is considered ready to read, publish, or produce? Length, content, deadlines, and the quality of your first draft are large factors in determining how many edits you need. A short poem could take as long to edit as a novel-length manuscript. I personally feel that a piece is never finished; it can always be reworked in some way, even after publication. Showing it to the world doesn’t make it perfect. It just makes it publishable. The thoughts are all there in a clear, acceptable structure, but there are always words, sentences, and ideas to tweak.

Anyone in a creative field will tell you that when they see their completed work, they only see the flaws. Writers don’t write for perfection, though. They also know that not everyone will like their work. There are always critics to dodge, but a good writer is always their own biggest critic.

Back to the original question, though, the number of edits on a piece can range anywhere from two quick viewings to dozens of reviews. To give you a ballpark figure, however, a college professor once quoted approximately 10 edits for a novel and about 25 for a poem. I throw in short stories and articles closer to the novel range, roughly five to 10 edits per piece. Editing is about repetition, going over each word again and again, sometimes skipping over it, sometimes recognizing a change and making that change.

Another question is how best to edit: by hand, on the computer, or both? Each technique has its benefits. You're more likely to catch a spelling error when reading through a printed version. However, you can easily cut and add content by editing on the computer. When I'm editing a novel, I always do at least two edits by hand. The entire piece is printed out and then marked in pen. That's the easy part.

The hard (and unappealing) part is going back through and making the edits to the typed document. Even then, the handwritten notes are reconsidered and altered when I type it up. With this technique, you cover two edits at once before the corrections are officially made.

So, how do you know when you're finished if every edit alters the piece in some way? One of the most telling indications is that you are ready to share it with another person. You are sure that it is free of all glaring errors, and your ideas are clear and as close as you can get to the message that you wanted to convey at the idea's inception. There is no science to it, but there are some guidelines to help you get to the point where the piece is introduced to a reader besides yourself.

I use this Flip Dictionary when I can't think of the word I want to use in place of another.

Attitude Towards Editing

In a three-part series, I will outline the different stages of editing. Each stage is important to crafting polished, memorable pieces. While the piece itself is precious to the writer, individual words, sentences, and even chapters shouldn’t be. Some sections will need more work than others. You have to be prepared to cut entire sequences altogether or even start over if you discover an approach to make the piece stronger. I will provide helpful editing tips, personal editing experiences, and famous editing stories.

Editing is a side to the writing process that I feel is not written about enough, despite being one of the most important steps in the process. A good first draft is merely a good start. Some of the best parts of the piece, though, are formed in this stage.

What are your editing techniques? Leave your answers in the comments below!

Also, be sure to read part two where I will discuss the types of edits typically made to a piece before it is published or performed.

Are you intimidated by the editing process?

See results

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • thedinasoaur profile image

        Dina AH 

        23 months ago from United States

        Ah, this was such a nice reminder of how to respond to written work. I look forward to seeing your take on editing in particular. That and revising are often muddled by my anxiety. Very helpful hub.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 

        23 months ago from Chicago Area

        Good tips! And I, too, have found that printing out a manuscript and/or reading it out loud are very helpful techniques. Thanks for sharing and have a great day!


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)