Lessons I Learned While Editing

Lessons I Learned While Editing

I am editing my first novel for the ninth or tenth time. That is, I am implementing changes my editor has suggested. Finding an editor I was willing to work with was quite a journey and a huge departure from writing in isolation.


I had taken lots of writing courses, earned my certificate in creative writing, and read a library of books on writing and my writing improved. But I couldn’t get my book published. I realized that to become a better writer I had to find a professional editor. This scared me. What if she laughed at my pathetic attempts to write? What if she took my money, made superficial changes and left me no better off? If she rewrote large chunks of my writing, would it still be my story?


As I implement her changes, these are three things I actually learned that I had been taught before. They didn’t become meaningful to me until I was able to see the difference.

  1. Anchor yourself in a specific character at the beginning of every scene. This sounds elementary and it is but I’ve been writing since 2006 and still suffered from POV slips, the dreaded head flitting. Now as I begin a new scene, I ask, “Who am I now?”
  2. Don’t summarize. Be in the situation. Don’t tell me they were really good friends; have them talk as friends do.
  3. Anything that happens must trigger another event. Pontificating on the landscape just because it makes the author sound erudite – if only in her own mind – is boring to the reader. It takes her out of plot. It takes objectivity to identify the superfluous details and sometimes that objectivity comes in the form of a professional editor.


Rushing to get a mediocre book to market is a waste of time. No one’s gonna read a lousy book. Relax and enjoy the process, but be willing to listen too. 

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  • Carolyn Robinson

    Hello, Catherine! I'm new to "She Writes" and came upon your article, "Lessons I Learned While Editing" (which I printed out for personal use) and thoroughly enjoyed it! Although it is an older article, every word of it holds true today.

    I finished my first book in November with NaNoWriMo...well, I wrote the first draft and am now on my second revision. I'm reading "The Editor's Eye" by Stacy Ennis and trying to write my revision based on the information she suggests in her book. The main suggestion? Hire an editor! She advises the how to and when to of hiring an editor along with expected costs or fees.

    You have a wonderful writing style and I hope to mimic your writing one day! Onward to your other articles!


  • Wow, thank you to those who responded. I posted this on June 17th and no one said a thing. I'm curious what would cause a flurry of activity? What made you notice the post Debra A Johnson, Lea Galanter, Karen Szklany, Patricia Robertson, Yvonne M. Conde, Jenni Ogden and Crystal Mary Lindsey?

  • Crystal Mary Lindsey

    Yes! It's very important to have an editor. I also believe before sending, hang on to the manuscript for a week without looking at it. Then while fresh in the morning begin to read your story as if its been written by someone else. Read slowly to catch more mistakes. When you are happy with this, then send it to your editor.

  • Jenni Ogden Writing

    All so so true.

  • Yvonne M.Conde

    Also editing away, with the helpful input of a great, great editor. What a difference it makes.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Sometimes we need to "relearn" what we once knew. I'm amazed at the many ways I slip up and mistakes I make when I know better. That's why I have an editor!

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you for sharing your writing tips!   I agree that good editors can be priceless. I had a few when I was writing my non-fiction book.  Now that I am writing fiction, I look forward when it is time to hire one for my novel.

  • Lea Galanter

    Thank you for acknowledging the value of a professional editor! Working with an editor on your manuscript is a collaborative effort and no professional editor will "laugh at your pathetic attempts" -- they will want you to succeed and will phrase their suggestions and comments with respect. I've been lucky to have wonderful clients, and have been honored to help "birth" their books by making them the best they can be, bringing out the writer's best voice, and making their manuscript look professional.

  • Debra A Johnson

    Hi Catherine,

    Great article.  I find that I am sometimes too close to my own work to see the kinds of errors you discussed.  Although, I rarely have problems with POV, setting the scene properly is one of my weaknesses. As soon as I finish this last pass, I plan to seek an editor. Good luck with your writing.  Thank you for sharing your journey.  Debra