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Is It Okay to Edit Your Own Novel?

Following last week’s When To Ignore the Editor, I thought I’d further alienate my editing brethren by questioning their importance altogether. Somewhere there’s a cabal of proofreaders burning me in effigy.

Okay, so the title of this blog is misleading; of course you should edit your novel (or short story, novella, manifesto, etc). Readers don’t need to see your first draft. But I’m talking about the editing edit now. The proofreading. The line copy. The “bleeding” pages. Is it alright to do it yourself?

The accepted wisdom is “No,” and for several good reasons. I asked this same question on Facebook, and had some very smart people say some very smart things. You’ve read these words for years now, you know this story inside and out, you need someone else to tell you what’s wrong. You need perspective, and the best way to get that is by hiring an editor.

Which is true. I agree.

That said, let’s imagine for a moment that it’s alright to ignore that advice and edit your own novel. What would that look like? What would you gain? Would your story be better or worse?

The Truest Expression of your “Vision.”

The epublishing revolution has thrown traditional routes on their head. More people are publishing their work than ever before, and many writers are discovering the story they want to tell can be sold even if it doesn’t include sparkling vampires or teenage wizards (though why you’d want to read a book without those two, I don’t know).


Many writers are also pushing the “publishing” button without having a clue what they’re doing. Double Yay! Why? Because nobody knows what they’re doing. Seriously. There’s no formula, there’s no hidden knowledge, no guru sitting upon a stack of kindles who can show you the way toward bestselling nirvana. Sure, there are cautionary tales—novels that read like they’re written by a third-grader, cover art that looks like Windows Paint kneecapped Photoshop and buried it in Shutterstock’s backyard. But for the most part, it’s an exciting time to be a writer.

And when you edit your own novel you will get the truest, purest form of your work out there.

Now, I’m not saying you should do that. This isn’t necessarily the best form of your story—but it’s true to your vision. It (probably) hasn’t been compromised. It’s you.

You’ll Learn How to Write.

If we’re really thinking about editing our own novel (Shhh. It’s okay. This is just hypothetical-land right now), we need to step back, give ourselves at least a month away from the story, then attack that mofo like it’s a rabid pigeon gunning for your kids.

This is not your novel. This is not your friend. This is work waiting for the edit, the slice of the blade, the surgeon’s knife cutting it open to the bone.

Pick your weapon. Err...writing software.

Pick your weapon. Err…writing software.

I know you’ve spent the last year giving birth to this word baby, but for the purposes of editing you have to transform yourself from idea-gestating writer to clear-headed mid-wife.

And in the process you’ll learn how to write.

You’ll learn your writing ticks. You’ll learn you use too many commas. You’ll learn to hate “it’s” because you use it incorrectly all the damn time.

By the time you’ve cut the fat from your novel you’ll be a better writer, because you’ve seen the inner workings of your own mind. You’ll come back lean and mean, or you’ll burn your work in a pyre of shame. Either way, you’ll have learned something valuable.

You’ll Spend More Time with Your Novel than You Thought Possible.

You’re really serious about going this alone. You’ve read the blogs, you’ve talked to other writers, you’re convinced you can do this by yourself. Alright, well bunk down my friend, because that book you spent the last two years writing? You’re going to spend just as long editing.

I believe you can edit your own novel. I believe in a world where this is possible. But to do it correctly, to really dig into that prose and get it right…you’re going to need to clear your calendar. This isn’t something to bust out in a weekend. You’ll need to read that book, then read that book again, then grab a Diet Fanta and read that sumbitch fifty more times.

You’ll get a true vision of your book, you’ll make yourself a better writer, and you’ll take fifty times longer doing it yourself then hiring an editor in the first place.

Is it worth it? I don’t know. Maybe. But this isn’t me yelling into a void. I want to know what you all think, so limber up them digits and leave a comment below. Am I crazy, or can editing your own novel be done?


Image Sources:

2008-01-26 (Editing a paper” Creative Commons via Nic McPhee

Set of surgeon’s knives.” Creative Commons via Birmingham Museum and Art

About nicwidhalm (46 Articles)
Nic Widhalm is a writer based out of Colorado, and specializes in stories of change, juxtaposition, and things that go bump in the night. You can visit him at

9 Comments on Is It Okay to Edit Your Own Novel?

  1. I constantly edit while writing. As for that final ‘line by line edit’, I leave that up to my most valuable tool, my beta readers, people in the game who I know and whose critical opinions I adhere to implicitly…

    • The importance of beta readers can not be ignored. They’re the calm voice inside our blathering brain canal, telling us when a character has gone off the rails and must be put down.

  2. Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Editing from another point of view…

  3. Great post, Nic.

    I honestly don’t think I’d ever had the objectivity to do the final edits on my own work, no matter how long I left a WIP, or how many times I edit it. I used to try, back when I was procrastinating on sending things out for query. I’d end up editing projects to death. I trust the opinions of the people I work with and I know they want to help me make my words shine.

    • Objectivity is tough to come by, specially when it’s your word baby. Frankly, I’m not sure I could do it either. But I think it’s possible someone else could.


  4. You’re crazy. And editing your own novel can be done. If you’re not a tard about it.

  5. I’m currently writing a book of my own and I have been editing while typing it on the computer because I transfer it from my cell phone but I’m wondering is it alright to do that and then once I’m finished completely to edit it again before sending it to an editor? any suggestions?

    • I’d suggest editing yourself until you think it’s perfect, then edit it one more time, then send it to the editor. I start to finish edited my first book probably three thousand times before sent it anywhere. And it still wasn’t perfect. Curse of the writer, I guess–you can always do another draft.

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

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