The Three Stages of Editing

Let’s be honest – your book is going to spend far longer in the ‘editing’ stage than the ‘drafting’ stage. The blank page might be daunting, and spending hours deliberating over outlines or character sheets might feel like the most agonizing part of crafting a manuscript, but the sheer reality is that editing, in all its forms, will be where you spend the longest amount of time.

Today’s writing post (thanks to everyone on Twitter!) takes a look at The Three Stages of Editing.

I define the three stages of editing as Structural Edits,  Detailing Edits, and Copyediting.

Structural Edits

The beginning stage of editing takes place after you’ve completed your first draft. I recommend taking a breather after you finish writing your manuscript, probably a few weeks to let everything settle in your mind. During this break, you should be thinking about the structure of your book, the things that did or didn’t work, and the areas you naturally know needed to be removed – or plot arcs you want to add.

The structural edits are the aggressive edits – think of them as a sledgehammer, because these edits will likely remove just as much as they add. In fact, it’s not uncommon for you to lose 10% or more of your total word count in this round of edits, particularly when removing extraneous chapters or scenes.

This is the time to address overall plot arcs and make large changes to your book.

Detailing Edits

I call the second stage of editing your detailing, where you take the structurally sound manuscript and start adding those missing details. These edits will take your manuscript and start to polish it, producing something that’s more realistic and defined than before.

For instance your detailing might include:

  • Refining character personalities and relationships
  • Expanding the lore and world-building with smaller details
  • Improving prose and overall narrative flow

What’s important to remember is that this stage is the longest stage of editing and you will repeat it multiple times. This type of editing often requires two or more passes over your manuscript to properly address all the outstanding issues, and to end up with a manuscript that’s almost finished.

When you’ve detailed your book sufficiently, you can move onto the final edits.

Side Note: Beta Stage

At this point in your manuscript’s lifecycle, you should decide if having beta-readers or critique partners is right for you. Opening your novel up to the beta stage is oftentimes a daunting thought, but it’s a very rewarding experience and gives you an opportunity to ‘road test’ your book with real readers. You’ll want to send the beta out now, because if – when – the betas provide comments, you may need to undertake edits, and you won’t want to undo copyedits.

I once talked about Beta Readers on Rae Oestreich’s blog – check it out!


The last stage of your manuscript’s journey is the copyediting stage. Strangely enough, despite the previous two stages being the most creatively intensive, this final stage oftentimes proves the most vital of all three stages – and can also be the hardest.

The final stage requires you to analyze your book with a fine-toothed comb, in what’s otherwise known as line-edits. Here, you check each line for grammatical and syntactical flaws, dialogue hiccups, continuity flaws, inconsistent POV, impossible knowledge, and every other type of minor glitch that you’ve probably overlooked in the previous stages.

Your eye naturally ‘fills in the blanks’, and as the author, you know what you meant in a scene – which contributes to your eye skipping over missing words. Oftentimes reading digitally puts you at a disadvantage, as our mind has been trained to skim-read on the computer more than other mediums, so I recommend printing your manuscript physically and using a red pen to mark copyedits, then transcribe these into your digital manuscript.

This is the one of the more frustrating parts of editing, but in the end, it will produce a book that’s polished and ready to be submitted to agents, publishers, or self-published as you see fit.

These are my three stages of editing! What stage is your book in? Do you have your own advice? Share this post via Social Media and discuss, or drop a comment below.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Maddie says:

    Really interesting blog post and really great advice! Definitely will consider these stages when I get up to the editing part of my book.

    Thanks for sharing!


    1. That’s great, I’m glad I could help you – and of course I’m always around for any writing or editing advice, plus I hope to be doing more posts like this in the future, perhaps about writing the first draft.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Ooh, this is GREAT. I confess, my editing doesn’t really have a very structured form? Like I write the first draft, and then I completely rewrite EVERY SINGLE WORD for draft #2. After that I get betas, and then I do pickier edits/line edits. I mean, that’s the plan. xD Some books need complete rehauls a few times. hehe. My current editing project (which I’m posting on wattpad as I go) is like a complete rehaul but also a draft #3. So it definitely depends on where my brain is at when I was writing. (Whereas my contemporary earlier last year only had two drafts before I was okay with it. Ooor,…. maybe my standards were too low. XD BAHAH. Ahem. I should look at that.) ;D
    I really want to print my manuscript and do edits that way one day!! I never thought about that helping catch those trickier typos. (I always seem to miss the typos.) So thanks for that tip!!


    1. Well everyone has their own editing structure and pattern – that’s part of what makes us all unique as writers, we don’t have to conform to any particular guideline! It sounds like your writing style works great for you, and I understand what you mean about big rehauls – I’m prone to them myself!

      Printing your manuscript is definitely a good idea, you’ll pick up so much more than always using your computer, plus it feels like you’re an actual editor with a mighty red pen!! So glad I could help!

      Thanks for reading!


  3. Blaise Haddow says:

    I would generally agree with these stages of editing, but I’m particularly curious about something you say very early on: why do you think the editing stage is the longest one?


    1. Thanks Blaise! I said Editing is the longest stage overall because of my own personal experience, and knowledge of other writers and authors. To be fair, I consider anything after the first draft to be ‘editing’, which some writers tend to disagree with.

      That said, the initial outlining and drafting part of your novel will definitely take less than your edits, especially if you’re reading your book several times over, having beta readers read your book, doing beta edits, re-writes etc. Rather than typing freely on a blank page, you’ll have to spend longer analyzing each page in detail.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


      1. Blaise Haddow says:

        See, I would expect an inverse relationship–the more planning you do, the less editing/revision it takes, generally speaking, and vice versa, which makes sense to me logically. (This is also a relationship I’ve heard from authors as well.) So even with beta rounds and revision portions, I have to wonder why an editing phase would take (singificantly) longer than the previous phases. Why do you think?


  4. Heather says:

    It kind of annoys me that these can so easily be broken up into three parts–because I agree, these are perfect–but you can spend sooo much time making structural edits that it’s like “why is there not the next stage??” But, in the end, totally, yes. This is how editing works. And they’re important to remember because if you do copyediting first you are going to have to undo all your work by the time you get to the structural edits needed.


  5. Meowmocha says:

    I sometimes think of editing this way: there’s minor editing, major editing, and “Let’s see, where did I put my machete?”
    Losing 10% of a manuscript. That sounds on target. Not long ago, I did a ton of editing, and lost 10-15k in the process. I was edit-crazy for a while, and forced myself to stop and return to my writing and moving forward in the plot I added more to the manuscript since then, so I have more editing to do. My friend thinks I’m a bit crazy because I’m always talking about editing, or planning to edit, or needing to edit, or…
    I heard about a free editing website called ‘Pro Writing Aid’, which is helpful in catching overused words, typos, long sentences (Too common with me, I think my record is 58 words, augh!), and other issues we so often miss because we’re too in love with our story to see its many flaws. (Hmm, the relationship between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester starts to make sense now. She was blind to his glaring flaws the way I’m blind to my novel’s flaws.)
    I need to run the tail end of my story through it soon so I can catch all the typos. Especially since the last 4600 words were written in a frenzy of caffeine, emotional roller coasters in the plot, and writer’s high because I was making so much progress and it thrilled me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s