The Editing Monster Hit List

At long last, I’ve compiled into one comprehensive list all the steps I take when editing. 

The problem is I keep misplacing the damned list. By posting it here on the blog, it will be a lot easier to find than sifting through nested computer directories, so…let’s hear it for public archives. 

Heed all warnings. Your miles may vary. Take what you like and burn the rest. Ad infinitum.

Zero Draft Editing

I tend to begin with a zero draft (also known as the brain dump, the vomit draft, the throw-something-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks draft). My only focus on this draft is to get the idea out of my head and onto the page.

I perform next to zero edits on this draft. Pretty much zilch. I generally draft in Scrivener, then backup to MS Word, so I’ll add page numbers and a table of contents. Then, I shove it in a mental drawer and I don’t touch it for *at least* six weeks.

First Draft Editing

I work on the first draft to drive the story towards cohesiveness. The goal of this draft is to fill in any holes and clean it up well enough to send to my development editor. I search the Zero Draft for “fix this” notes, any missing scenes or incomplete transitional breaks, etc. 

I want the story to be as complete as I can make it, but I don’t get too invested in making it perfect, so I’m not stripping adverbs or assessing overall sentence structure. Basic formatting, complete from start-to-finish, with basic spell-checking, but that’s it.

Then, I ship it to my development editor, and ask her whether or not the story sucks. 

Second Draft Editing

By this point, I’ve got a stronger, cleaner draft. The plot holes have been fixed, the story itself has been solidified—I’m closer to the delivery target, whether that’s publication consideration or web posting or sending to my list. 

Now, the editing gets interesting, with four sub-categories that must not be skipped.

1. Overarching Checks

  • Stick the intro landing: Start strong by establishing scene, creating  conflict and/or generating mystery.  Whenever possible, CUT exposition (move to later).
  • What’s vital/integral? WHAT must the reader know WHEN for the story to move forward?
  • Genre promise: What’s the core genre of this story, and what elements must be present? Are they all accounted for?
  • Keep antagonist active: Keep in mind what the antagonist is doing in the background, even if it’s never explicitly stated in the text.
  • Deliver promised elements: No disconnected endings. No loose ends. No plot holes.

2. In Each Scene

  • What’s new: what events/actions in this scene can only happen here? Why is this scene important?
  • Character motivation: what does each character want? Who/what is the opposition? Who wins/loses, and what comes next as a result?
  • Simplify descriptions: what would the POV character notice, and why? What details don’t matter and can be removed?
  • Protagonist agency: what action does POV character take that changes the scene’s outcome?
  • Reader engagement: what should the *reader* feel in this scene?
  • Sensory pass: check for see, hear, feel, taste, smell and sense integration.

3. Comprehensive Chapter Checks

  • Print out, red pen: at least once with every manuscript, no matter the length, print out each chapter and walk through it with a red pen.
  • Fight scenes: Eliminate tech jargon, work backward from desired injury/outcome, remember to incorporate character POV fear and limitations, avoid punching, remember adrenaline aftermath.
  • Love scenes: romance, desire, emotion, sensory elements, heat
  • Up/down rhythm: If possible, adjust chapter wins/losses and ending up/down beats
  • Kill scene breaks: whenever possible, transition to next scene instead of breaking flow of text.
  • Relevancy: if this whole chapter was cut, how would the story suffer? How could I make this chapter someone’s favorite in the whole book.

4. Final Checks

First, a word about the “filler word” lists. These are the empty words that dilute meaning and must be removed. 

This part SUCKS. I cut corners *every* *single* *time* I get to this stage because I’m so damned tired of the manuscript. And the list just gets longer the more I write.

Doesn’t matter how I feel about it, though, because this stage absolutely tightens up the writing. With each manuscript, though, I get a little better at making sure this gets done.


  • Editor/Beta reader: For development editor, get feedback on overall story (plot, characters, etc.) For beta reader, ask ABCD (what’s awesome, boring, confusing, or disbelieving—meaning, what pulls them out of the story?)
  • Filler word and crutch phrase lists: Allot time and don’t skip; go through *entire list* to trim excess, even if it takes multiple sittings.
  • Tighten writing: at minimum, search for “line widows” to find opportunities to trim words.
  • Kindle pass: send doc to Kindle; make revision list
  • Final notes: make sure every last revision note is integrated into manuscript

The Final Draft

At this point, the story itself is finished, and these final checks ensure the cleanest manuscript possible before submitting for publication consideration, self-publication, or posting.

  • AutoCrit pass: Mandatory check of adverbs in dialogue, overused words, phrase frequency, cliches, and redundancies, at minimum.
  • Read aloud pass: If changes are made in a line, go back to its beginning and resume.
  • Final spelling/grammar check: watch out for AutoCorrect bullshit and make sure names aren’t botched.

And then, my friends, it’s DONE! I ship that thing wherever it’s supposed to go, and get on to the next story.

How does your process vary? Hit me up on Twitter @virginiablk517 and let me know! And if you want to read one of my latest stories, check out my lesbian paranormal novella UNSEEN, available here:

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