How to edit a novel

I saw this tweet as I got into the final corrections on my manuscript. I couldn’t reply fast enough!


I’d heard about Charlotte Nash at Genrecon and what I remembered is that she writes fast. Her record is 90,000 words in 3 weeks, but she says she averages about 2,000 words a day now she has a baby. It’s taken me the best part of 5 years to get my book into submittable shape. I do not have enough life left to spend another 5 years on one book, so I was keen to pick up any tips about how to speed up the process.

Charlotte is the author of the Walker-Bell novels,  contemporary love stories set in the Australian outback. She has been nominated for Ditmar and Aurealis awards for her speculative fiction.  She has degrees in engineering and medicine, and over her pre-novelist career worked for the CSIRO in composites and rocket building, in private industry as an incident investigator, and as a technical writer.

How to Edit a Novel explains Charlotte’s own editing process, PAPER. It breaks the task of editing into distinct steps that reduce duplication of effort and help you focus on the important things first. This made immediate sense: I wasted a fair bit of times making text corrections on stuff I ending up cutting completely. Time saved already.

PAPER stands for Preparation, Analysis, Planning, Execution, Review. I won’t repeat the advice here, the steps are reasonably self-explanatory and you can get the book from Charlotte’s site soon I believe. For each step, Charlotte details the mechanics of what you do, down to details like the tools you’ll need and how to manage the structural changes. It’s clear, easy to follow and logical. I’m all about efficiency and this strikes me as a nice, lean process.

I know myself well enough to know I would have probably implemented her advice about 50% and then winged it (why I am not an engineer!) but the starting point would have been a huge help. One of the things I struggled with most was how to get a full picture of the plot, all the storylines and character arcs, so I could see how to re-structure. I tried about 4 or 5 different  methods and eventually got there but it was laborious and not much fun. Following PAPER would have saved me a massive amount of time.

Charlotte’s up front about saying the book is about the process of editing, not the craft of story structure and analysis, pointing out the proliferation of existing resources. If you don’t know about story structure already, you will need to do your homework first, or follow Charlotte’s advice and pay for a structural edit and learn from that.

I’d highly recommend this book, especially to people wrestling with their first book project. The romantic view of writing as inspiration doesn’t jibe with my experience. It’s about getting the work done. The books that get published are the books that get finished, and this book will help you make the most of the time you have for writing.

Charlotte Nash on Twitter