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Make the Decision to do the Hard Work Before You Start to Write a Book

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But I need to tell it to you again. Book revision and editing are harder and take longer than the actual writing of your book. So be prepared to stay with it for the long haul before you start.

Here’s a true story. After I wrote the first draft of my memoir I hired an editor who helped me prepare it for submittal to interested agents and presses. This took about a year. Then once I had a book contract, my publisher requested an enormous amount of revisions to that draft. So I spent another six months revising and editing my manuscript with the help of three writing friends who checked my work for repetition, inconsistencies, chapter organization, wording, and typos. Afterward, the publisher’s editor worked another month doing a final review and edit before producing the first hardback edition.

After my memoir’s release in May 2011 many readers informed me that they found typos in it. My then publisher promised to fix all typos in the next edition. However that wasn’t to be. A year later I contracted with new publisher to produce paperback and eBook editions when the first press went out of business.

With that I got a huge shock. My very diligent new publisher found many more typos in my manuscript. His wife, an excellent proofreader, found even more. I also reread the book front to back at his request, and guess what? I found more errors.

The lesson is: producing a book manuscript is way more than just the writing. The rewriting, the revision, and the editing can take years. And I fear that many authors who self publish their books don’t take the time to do this necessary work. They don’t spend the money to get a qualified editor and proofreader to help either. As my friend, Marla Miller says, premature publication by indie authors makes the rest of us - who have done the hard work - look bad. 

Now that I’m writing a novel, I took a novel revision workshop through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program last spring. What I learned in that class was also eye opening: the first draft is really a compilation of many drafts.

Here’s the list:

  1. The object of the very first draft is just to get the manuscript on the page – as fast as you can without stopping to revise or edit. I started with a list of scenes so I knew from the start how my novel would turn out. Other writers are pantsers – they just write from the seat of their pants. Once you’ve completed this draft, make a hard copy and read it through without editing. Instead make notes on separate sheets of paper for later reference.
  2. In the second draft, start filling in the gaps with research data and character development. This is also the time to fix plot points and inconsistencies and to incorporate any notes you took during your read-through.
  3. In the third draft fix what you broke in the second draft. Also to get the manuscript ready to show to three or four readers – people not related to you.
  4. Incorporate your readers’ notes in the fourth draft.
  5. In the fifth smooth and cleanup your writing as you get the book ready to show to three entirely different readers – also not related to you.
  6. Incorporate the second round of readers’ notes in the sixth draft.
  7. The seventh is for smoothing and cleaning up the changes you made in the previous draft.
  8. And during the tedious and painstaking eighth draft, edit the language line-by-line.

Now you’re ready to submit to agents and/or small presses. Or if you plan to self-publish now is the time to hire an editor and proofreader.


  1. Incorporate your agents/editor’s notes in several more revisions.
  2. Incorporate your proofreader’s notes in your final, final revision.

Don’t be surprised if it takes at least a year to complete all these drafts. But the time spent will be well worth it. Revision and editing will give you the opportunity to layer and enrich your manuscript every time you go through it.

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” Arthur Polotnik.


Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide charts the near-destruction of one middle-class family whose son committed suicide after a seven-year struggle with bipolar disorder. Madeline Sharples, author, poet and web journalist, goes deep into her own well of grief to describe her anger, frustration and guilt. She describes many attempts -- some successful, some not -- to have her son committed to hospital and to keep him on his medication. The book also describes her and her family's redemption, and ultimately, her decision live and take care of herself as a woman, wife, mother and writer. She also published an article about her revision process on Chuck Sambuchino’s blog, Guide to Literary Agents.

For more information go to her website:


* This post was originally published in July 2016.

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  • Cindy Bahl Writing

    Hi Madeline, I appreciate your honest information on this process. In December, just a few months ago, I decided to write a memoir. I'm still in note-taking phase. And a bit overwhelmed. Though I do already have a theme and title. I think what you've written will be helpful to me. I'm new to the whole world of writing for anyone but myself and always appreciate anyone who is willing to share their wisdom and experience. Again, thank you.

  • Rose CG Writing

    Hi Madeline, bravo! As writers, we often forget to stand back to get the big picture of our work. I know I am guilty of this. Thanks for the reminder. Rose

  • Important information for any writer (fiction, poetry or nonfiction) on the hard work of puttting the finishing touches on the ir book just prior to publication. An eye opener, for sure!

  • Thank you Lacey. I'm so glad you don't mind working on later drafts. I'm the same way. If we can make improvements the time is well worth it. All best with your writing work.

  • Lacey Louwagie

    Thanks so much for this -- I really hope writers, especially those who self-publish, will take it to heart. It can be daunting, but luckily, I prefer revision to writing, so I don't mind all the time spent with later drafts ... too much. :)

  • Thank you Suzanne. I love that you call your baby a her. It takes a lot of time to grow and mature a baby too. 

  • Suzanne Moyers

    Anyone who reads this--or lives it!--will appreciate the hard work writing entails...I found it very reassuring, as I am constantly revising, revisiting, rethinking my novel--and I haven't gotten close to finding an agent.  Still, it's my baby, and I enjoy watching her grow and mature...

  • Thank you so much for your wise thoughts, Mary Ann. Fresh eyes always help make a manuscript better. We can even make our own eyes seem fresh if we leave a little time between the writing and the editing. I have learned to have such respect for a long editing and revision process. 

  • Mary Ann Faughnan

    Thanks for this wonderful post, Madeline! I'm both a writer and an editor, and although I sometimes can't help fixing things in my own drafts as I go along, I wholeheartedly agree with your advice to get those other pairs of impartial eyes to review at different stages. You may not make the perfect word choice the first time around, but patience and diligence will help you come close to perfection in the end.

  • Thanks so much, Rhonda. I hope you'll read my memoir and write a review yourself. I very much appreciate your interest.

    And thank you too, Nathalie. 

    Thank you both for taking the time to read my article and post a comment. Best,


  • RYCJ Revising


    Congratulations! I love that cover. The colors are my favorite. Very cooling. I also love memoirs, and genuine memoirs more-so, even at the risk of having to read over typos.

    Now, I don't usually read reviews, but after your post I got curious and was persuaded by the first/top review posted on Amazon. Hopefully that message will help many others appreciate the message in your story.  



  • Thanks so much, Sherrey. I'm so glad you'll refer to my lists while you work on your book. I look forward to reading it someday, but don't rush it. All best.

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Excellent post, Madeline!  And I'm so fortunate to receive its benefit prior to reaching this stage of my book.  Can you tell I feel a bit smug?  The tips are well thought out and I'm sure I'll refer back to this time and time again -- it's tucked away in Evernote.  :)

  • Kathy, I'm so glad you found this article helpful. I'm knee deep in the editing and revision of my novel now and I have to keep telling myself - take your time. It's so important. 

    Best luck with your work. I'm looking forward to reading it. 

  • Kathleen Pooler

    Madeline, This is an excellent post--so timely for me as I plow through multiple drafts. You remind me that patience and perseverance are virtues as I strive to put out my best work. I like the idea of asking different beta readers  to review at various stages. Thank you so much for helping me to see where I am at in my memoir writer's journey and to not rush the process. Priceless!