The Single Best Way to FINISH Your Novel

Kristen's New Author Pic

Kristen’s New Author Pic

It’s my FAVORITE time of the year. I SO LOVE HALLOWEEN. It is the best of all the holidays because it is the only holiday where hanging out with family and cleaning my house are optional. There’s also candy and costumes.

This year I am going as Maleficent. Still working on my costume, and since I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, I actually had a spare Alice in Wonderland costume.


So of course I had to put THAT to use. And, you are welcome!

Yes, I filmed myself as Alice in Wonderland in the only room in the house with lighting that didn’t make me look like Alice in Wonder-When-Botox-Will-Go-On-Sale Land. But, hey, we are all here to have FUN!

Anyway, whether we Nano or not, I want to offer you a lesson about writing a novel. Probably the BEST lesson. Editing is necessary and awesome. In fact, there are a lot of books published that could have used it…a LOT of it. But, like Botox, it can be overdone and ruin something that could have been beautiful.

Editing can and WILL kill your WIP. It WILL tank progress and, if you allow it, it WILL derail you and keep you from finishing Nano. In fact, I think perfecting and editing kill more novels than “writer’s block” ever did. We futz and fuss and fret the magic right out of the work until it dies a lonely death in a forgotten digital file on a forgotten laptop.

But how can we NOT edit? How can ignoring editing make our work better? Kristen, are you mad? What’s next? Cats and dogs living together? 

It can. Trust me. Better yet. I’m an editor, so I will show and not tell.

I dig parables, so I have a good one for you.

I love to garden, but I am terrible at reading instructions, which means I am not going to read a How To book or gardening blogs, because I already have enough to read and this would steal time from my great joy…digging in the dirt. This means that, over the years, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error.

Code for : Killing Stuff

Almost seven years ago, we bought our first home. We got a sweet deal on it, but it needed work. The yard was little more than mowed field. I couldn’t wait to get in and pretty it up. I slaved for hours in triple-digit Texas heat digging holes and clearing land for gardens. I’d always loved oleander and when I found them on sale at the local nursery, I was ecstatic.

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 10.01.58 AM

Normally, oleander this size were about $150 but I got each for less than $20. I planted one on each corner of the house and dreamed of how beautiful they’d be when they matured.

Then we had the most freakish, freezing winter in Texas history. I’d never even seen snow before and suddenly we were buried in eight inches of it.

The Canadians can all stop laughing now. You guys have things like PLOWS, SNOW SHOVELS, SNOW TIRES…and COATS.

Anyway, the oleanders that seemed to be doing okay during the mild fall were obliterated. When early spring came, I cleaned up all the dead stuff and dug out all the oleanders and threw them away. All except one because I ran out of energy.

Much to my horror, guess what sprouted once it got warmer?



My last remaining oleander. *sniffles*

To this day, I can’t look at that oleander without grieving the other four. I feel so foolish. What if I’d just been patient? What if I hadn’t been so quick to judge what was “dead”?

This is what premature editing can do to our story. When we start hacking away and digging stuff out too soon, we have no idea what treasures we might be tossing in the garbage.

Never underestimate what your subconscious is capable of doing. Our subconscious mind is planting seeds along the way that can eventually sprout into ideas better than we imagined. Editing too soon can ruin that magic and toss it in a Hefty bag, just like my poor oleanders.

Tips to Avoid Premature Editing

Fast Draft (Kinda Like Nano on Steroids)

Candace Havens teaches a method called Fast Draft and I use it to this day. You write the entire novel in a matter of two weeks. No stopping, no looking back. No editing. This is my preferred method, because I am notorious for editing stuff to death.

In the mystery I just sent off to an agent, I forbade content editing. There were times I thought what I was writing was ridiculous. SHEER MADNESS. But, as I got closer to the end, I realized my subconscious was far smarter than I was. I ended up with a richer, deeper story that I never would have been able to consciously plot. Because I didn’t uproot those seeds of inspiration, I was finally able to watch them bloom into something far more remarkable.

The killer I’d “plotted” was actually a red herring. My subconscious actually had come up with a twist even I didn’t consciously see. Had I gone back and “fixed” things? I would have edited out the best twist in my book.

Thus I challenge those of you who might have a tough time finishing. Give permission to simply WRITE. Your subconscious might have a miracle in store for you.

Limited Edit

Allow yourself to correct typos, punctuation and grammar ONLY. Anything else that you believe needs to be changed, make a note of it in a different color. Then keep moving forward.

I know this isn’t for everyone. Every time I talk about this topic, I get a half a dozen comments from people who just can’t bear to not edit. Of course, many of them don’t have finished books, either.

In the end, these are tips. You have to find what works for you. But I would at least give these methods a try. You can always slay the superfluous adverbs later ;).

Make Notes

If you are tempted to edit, instead, just make a note of it in a different color and keep going. For instance, maybe your protagonist didn’t have a sister when you started the book, then suddenly she does. You are tempted to edit this new character out. Instead of doing that, just make a note of it and riff with it. Your muse could be doing you a solid.

Writers often whine that they wish the muse would visit, but then when she does, they undo all her magic with edits. Let her help!

Remember that Nanowrimo is NOT about 50,000 perfect words so it is okay if there is a false trail in there. But if there IS, then you at least have some breadcrumbs to get you back on track and you haven’t wasted precious time polishing something that didn’t work OR unraveling something seriously cool your muse was gifting to you when you were refilling your vodka coffee ;).

Again, if you LOVE editing and you have finished 20 novels and bathe regularly in $50 bills, keep doing it. I am ALL about writers finding what works for them. There IS no One-Size-Fits-All.

But, if you’ve had a hard time finishing or you do get stuck, it doesn’t hurt to give this a try. I argued with pros who told me to stop editing my stuff for YEARS and I was stubborn as a goat (note the pic of me with the horns above—this is before I put ON my Maleficent costume 😉 ). In all honesty, I really wish I hadn’t been such a stubborn pain in the @$$.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever gotten overzealous and edited the heart out of a story and later regretted it? What tactics do you use to keep from editing too soon? Does editing early not bother you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of OCTOBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook


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  1. “I think perfecting and editing kill more novels than “writer’s block” ever did. ” Right about that!

  2. Great post, Kristen! As a gardener I relate to your analogy. Thanks for these timely reminders! I too love Fast Draft. I’ve finished more novels using Candy’s method!

  3. I”ve been on Hiatus from revising due to an accident which caused an injury which caused pain enough to keep me from editing. See?

    Would I be in any shape to edit? I just go round and round.

    Sharing this post next time I blog. 🙂

  4. And me? I can’t fast draft. I write, revise the next and move forward. And I finish. I discovered my process and learned not to mess with it…no matter how tempted I am to try plotting or fast-drafting or whatever else comes along.

  5. Again, great post! I finish manuscripts, but editing myself after is so difficult. Thanks!!

    • prudencemacleod on October 28, 2015 at 11:02 am
    • Reply

    So, it has a real name, my writing process. The Fast Draft. Who knew? I’ve been doing this for over twenty years. I knew it, I was right all along. Aaaahaahahahahahahaa! 🙂

  6. I’m going to just write during NaNoWriMo, then hopefully go out of town and revise and edit during the winter. But in November, just writing. Thanks for the suggestions.

  7. Kristen, cool costumes and a wonderful analogy with gardening. I love your posts – so much wisdom!

  8. First of all, I absolutely LOVE your costume. So perfect! I’m gearing up for NaNo now, and so excited. I was able to actually finish for the first time last year with the Fast Draft method. So glad it’s being shared with others! Thanks.

    • Lanette on October 28, 2015 at 11:06 am
    • Reply

    I needed to hear this. I’m part way through the worst thing I’e ever written, and I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. What I need to do is just write the damned thing and figure out what to do with it when I’m finished.

  9. I love your writing blog- brilliant- helpful- funny and spot on !! Thanks !! Happy Halloween!!

    • Janice on October 28, 2015 at 11:09 am
    • Reply

    After months of fighting myself every step of the way, I came to this very same conclusion. I will overthink and obsess over every sentence. I have to force myself to just go. If something gives me trouble, I highlight it and move on. Good to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this!

  10. When I write rough draft, I only do an occasional spell check.

    You can ‘clone’ your oleander bush – you need cuttings of 2 year old stems, pull off the leaves and put into pots or the ground. (1 year old stems only can produce leaves).

  11. Stuck home with sick child and am feeling brain rot setting in. Maleficent to the rescue. Keep the laughs–and dead oleander–coming.

  12. I’m sorry about the oleander!

    This is how I approach a draft, but I actually changed my strategy and decided to draft the whole serial before next year instead of just one arc at a time.

  13. I try to only correct typos if I go back to a story I haven’t touched for a while and can’t remember where I was, otherwise I try and keep going.

  14. Wow, did I need THIS post today. I started my sixth novel last week in the middle of a gross bout with the coughing/fever influenza. I was SO tired of sitting on the couch and hadn’t written a novel in over a year, so I finally started it. And I’m writing my heart out and NOT looking back over what I wrote – yet. I never write this way but now that I’ve read your post, I see that I’m not totally crazy for doing it this way. I’m going to wait until I write THE END, then I’ll go back and edit. Wish me luck.
    Thank you.

  15. I used to know a guy who was writing a science fiction novel sorta like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He got around 30,000 words in and started editing. And editing. And rewriting. And editing. Last I knew, he was still working on that first 30,000 words. I tried telling him to write–you know, strike while the iron is hot–but he kept editing. And revising. I finally gave up.

    Yes, everyone has their own way of writing, but I think there’s a practical limit to what we should allow ourselves. As you say, too much editing can kill your forward momentum.

    I do a combination of two of your methods. I do very limited editing by reading what I wrote last session. That gets me back into the story and lets me do minor polishing along the way (repeated words, typos, etc). I also keep a separate file of notes, mostly consisting of those pesky ideas that come to you at odd and sometimes inconvenient times. I look over those notes occasionally when I’m feeling stuck for the next scene.

    Most of all, I just write. I don’t outline because that kills the story for me. I discover it as I write, much as the readers will discover it as they read. I figure if I’m surprised by something, it’s a good bet the reader will be too.

    Great post.

  16. Nano is great for blocking out that inner editor and it actually helped me write my second novel in that “fast draft” way too. I didn’t have a deadline or daily word counts, but I wrote the whole thing in a few weeks (or maybe a month) without editing. Of course it helped that I was writing long hand, so editing was much harder than on the computer. But I definitely agree that too much editing and thinking and “polishing” can kill a novel, so it’s good to give yourself the chance to just write and see what your mind comes up with.

  17. I have a big problem with perfectionism, so I really appreciated this post. I LOVE the note idea – that way I can acknowledge the critical editor that sits on my shoulder while I’m writing without kowtowing to her.

  18. well put- balance is key
    BTW Great costume- you pull it off well 🙂

  19. This post is right on. I wrote my first novel earlier this year and the only way I finished it was by using these techniques (though I didn’t think about them in such an organized fashion). I had an inner mantra: “No one’s reading this yet. It doesn’t have to be perfect.” For me, editing is something that happens before I share with others (beta readers, my agent, etc.) – if I try to edit while writing, I will never finish. Great post!

  20. Major perfectionist here… My main WIP has been in the works for a decade now (it’s not my only WIP, but it’s my big one) and this is totally one of my problems. I started it when I was a young teen, so a lot of the issues it has are related to inexperience and general youthful ignorance at the time I wrote it. It’s taken me so long to hone it into its current form that I’m paralyzed of making mistakes and having to do MOAR REVISIONS. So on this draft (which feels like I hit gold) I’ve been especially frozen with fear and deleting and rewriting a lot of scenes. Time to move forward boldly! Thank you for this post. 🙂 My next WIP I think I am going to try the fast draft method for sure.

    *edits and checks comment for errors multiple times before posting* 😛

  21. I only edit typos and such as I write, and leave revisions of plot and characters until I am finished with the first draft. I will revise a scene, though, if I think it’s not working, but nothing major. However, I LOVE the idea of using color to identity areas you want to explore afterwards. I have never thought of that. Great tip. Thanks!!

  22. Reblogged this on Nancy Segovia and commented:
    This works. Try it!

  23. Well… I write, faster than I speak. Can slam out a first draft in two weeks (house-work be damned). It’s the editing that takes longer, and my procrastinating to start the editing process even longer.But once you’ve polished your piece into a whole new beast – its so worth it.
    Now I just need to find the willpower to go to the next level.

  24. I love the post, its message, and the fun clip!

  25. This is great and just what I needed to read today! Not only am I a freelance editor, but I’m a published author who has edited herself right out of finishing several books. This also reminds me to be gentle in my editing of others–I don’t want to cut out something wonderful–or that could be wonderful! : )) Thanks Kristen!

  26. Ha I joined NAno 2014 for the first time. That pesky little guy, called the inner critic ruined my first three days! Until a friend gave me the advice to imagine how I lock him in the cellar, if possible into a wine barrel and not let him out until december.
    Funny? It worked. After a few days he was drunk, came up to prattle silly things, but I managed to jostle him down the stairs again, where he happily drowned in some more wine… 😀
    I´ve learned to take things easier. And thus, this nasty little in november turned out to be a real comrad in march…
    Everything at the proper time.
    In other words: Hi Alice! Funny vid! Thanks!

  27. I write my first draft long-hand (the ideas seem to flow better that way) so I just note down questions & ideas on the facing page as I write. It seems to pacify my inner critic and lets me get away with things like changing the MC’s name half-way through the story.
    Mind you, my first draft ballooned to 160,000 words, so I have got some MAJOR editing ahead of me – once I get it all typed up. (I’m not insane enough to do all my edits long-hand. What’s next, quills?)

  28. Hahahaa!! I TOTALLY LOVE reading your posts! Love the gardening analogy, and everything else!
    I am doing a writing fiction class right now, and instead of following its directions to just start writing, edit later but take the time to edit well, I am reading blogs of other people’s writing. Then I came across yours. Perfect for me to read today as I procrastinate, yet again, and don’t work on my own works, but read others and give elaborate comments!!
    Gonna give NaNo a try again this year and maybe just maybe, I will get the novel I have been working on for far too long, written.
    Thanks for the kick in the pants to get to work!!!

    • dorabramden on October 28, 2015 at 5:15 pm
    • Reply

    Often the right advice lands in my lap just when I need it. I’m stuck on the third chapter and have been going back to chapter one and editing that first scene. Smacks forehead. Onward to the end after reading this. I have heard it before but like the goat you refer to I have been determined to do what doesn’t work. The Oleanda analogy worked for me. Excellent advice. Now I’ll keep going, it should also facilitate a connection to where I am in the story. Oh, I recently watched ‘Maleficent’ and no wonder she’s your Halloween persona, she’s magnificent.

  29. This “Fast Draft” method is what works for me. I used to edit every darn sentence as soon as I wrote it. Then, when I joined Nano in 2013, the top tip was to write and edit later. That advice let me write those 50,000 words and “win”. It changed the way I wrote forever. This is great advice for everyone.

    • annfoweraker on October 28, 2015 at 6:08 pm
    • Reply

    Learnt that lesson the hard way!! My second novel I edited as I went – then, at the end, a character spoke… and those words turned so much on its head (and created a perfect twist) that I had to work back and try to remember what those bits were that I edited out – as they were actually very important! Never again – I do spelling and grammar and move on! Great Post!

    • KG on October 28, 2015 at 6:26 pm
    • Reply

    I’m struggling with that now at the very last bit of my WIP–compulsively editing as a way to procrastinate. I need to stop and just push through!!

  30. Yep, my inner editor is a story killjoy. This is why I love NaNoWriMo. I’m writing the whole novel in 30 days (or less), so I don’t have to listen to Miss “That Sounds Like Crap” for the entire month.
    I know this manuscript will need to be edited come December or January. Every first draft needs to be edited. Some more than others. But I will WIN and will have a finished draft to cut, shred and rewrite to Miss Perfect Prose’s heart’s content.
    Just not in November when new words are the ultimate goal.

  31. Yes, this is exactly what I needed to hear today. I’m still churning out content for last year’s November novel, and as I figure out the plot there’s a big temptation to get the Story So Far all edited and perfect before moving on. You are so right about making notes; I found that once I wrote down all the changes I need to make I was able to move on to create new material and see where the ending takes me.

  32. I’m soooo on the fence about editing what I’m writing.

  33. This is such good advice Kristin. It has just taken me a decade to believe in it! I know as a writer that trying too hard can be a major obstacle. I have personally experienced the muse stepping in to conjure surprises. Thanks again for a great post.

  34. Perfect! I was thinking about this earlier today and had decided that the ONLY editing I will let myself do is fixing typos and grammar. I’m not cutting anything longer than a sentence or two for this draft. I edit to death and it has slowed me down for every writing project longer than a short story. I hadn’t thought of making areas that I am not sure of a different color; that seems so obvious. I will definitely be using that and making notes as I go, but otherwise, everything is staying in until I go back to edit AFTER Nano! 😀

  35. I very much enjoy your commentary on all things writing. The forever oleander story hits my core as a wannabe gardner and writer. i will try to remember to not weed , or give up, too soon. i often looked in the neighborhood for flourishing gardens and sought out knowledge from those who toiled in the soil to great effect. those who know the soil tend to tell good stories, i might add. thanks.

  36. Okay, I’m one of those compulsive edit-as-you-go types. I think I can avoid editing the story line, but not the language. I just have to have the perfect word… I truly believe your advice, and I want to take it, but I don’t trust me to do it. Is this a suitable compromise?

  37. love it! I’ve had my memoirs on the back burner for a couple years now; my mother decided to write hers and I’ve been editing them instead. So many stories from a different perspective!

  38. I just did a fast-draft workshop with Candy – it’s amazing the different it did to my writing. I finished my manuscript whereas I used to go over and over and over … what I’ve written. (you get the picture?). I put a link on my website

  39. You have touched on a topic that we teachers most assuredly are dealing with fairly often. Kids, as they are learning how to write in the first place, very much doubt themselves, especially when they know that they are getting “marked” on their work. “Is my story good enough?” and so forth. I am working hard to encourage them to create their first draft freely, then edit once the ideas are on paper. Learning how to correct one’s own mistakes takes the confidence to admit that you made them in the first place.

  40. Excellent post! I actually rough draft by hand in pen so I can’t erase anything I’ve written. Because yes, my brain has a way of throwing in little things I might have deleted, but that later turn out to make the story work.

  41. I used to research everything along the way, which would take forever. After resisting it for a while I’ve started inserting XXX for holes in the story, and it’s made the writing process much faster and smoother. Now I’m trying my hardest not to edit each small section, forcing myself to plow ahead instead. I know I’ll get there eventually. Even if I end up with a WIP so full of Xs people might think it’s an adult film on steroids.

    (And I lived in Texas for three years before moving — we lived in a Houston suburb — so you have my full sympathies!)

  42. Seriously amazing Maleficent costume, Kristen. Definitely go with it.

    I’ve tried at least 5 ways to not edit my novel as I write it. This time (my 8th rewrite) I’m just doing a synopsis of each chapter by hand. Very little dialog and only hastily sketched out scenes. I know what I want to happen so I’m just leaving “signposts” for what to write; I can flesh it in later. Sort-of like a draft, I think.

    I also have several post-it notes around my desk with lists of what each scene must include, how to use setting to advance the plot, the hero arc, how to deepen characters, etc., so I always have visual reminders as I write of what needs to be in the novel, AND, I took one (count it, ONE) piece of lined notebook paper and wrote a one-line synopsis of the main thing that happens for each chapter. My skeleton outline, if you will. (See how I got a Halloween reference in there?)

    I won’t be taking part in NaNoWriMo officially this year since it’s a pain in the rear-end to go back and count your words every day, but I’ll be there in spirit. If I can finish my bare-bones (another Halloween reference ;-)) draft by the end of Novenber, I’ll consider myself a winner.

  43. This came at a perfect time for me because I’m seriously stuck on the fight scene in my WIP. This is telling me to stick a note on it and move on.

  44. This is a great piece of advice…How can I ever thank you enough? By writing my novel, I guess!

  45. The hardest part for me is when I have to go back to an early passage for whatever reason and read may way forward again a little bit is not editing on the way. I do it.. but it is hard.

  46. ‘Two packs of candy cigarettes a day’ … I can’t stop laughing! Thank you for not only giving us so much guidance but for making it so much fun!

  47. Thank you for saying we’re allowed to fix grammar and typos. I need that in order to stay sane. But I hear you on not going back to edit as we go. I like the color coded notes idea.

  48. Great advice. I used to edit and faff around and my writing stagnated. I got bored and could never finish anything. When I just let myself write without looking back, it was like the magic was unlocked. I’m normally an analytical planner, so this sort of gunslinging approach is against my nature, but it works so well for me. Editing/redrafting the MS is a whole other matter…

  49. Reblogged this on Sunflowers for Moira and commented:
    This post.

  50. i never even think of editing until I’m all done with the manuscript too, except for the small stuff as you mentioned. My muse came up with great endings for all 4 novels, plus a plot twist I would not have come up with on my own. Sometimes it’s good NOT to think too much. Let your muse do it for you. Love your advice.

  51. I’m a firm believe in the fast draft, although with my full-time job that ends up being a 3-4 month thing, because I can only work on my novels on weekends.

    We can always polish later. I say this to other writers all the time who are struggling to finish their first book.

  52. I love this, great post

  53. I love these excellent advices, Kristen. You’re great!! Thank you so much. It will help me a lot.

  54. Great advice Kristen. Next book, I’ve promised myself I’m going to try your method for the first draft. Write, write, write, write – no looking back. Onwards and upwards I say.

  55. Nano was the best thing I ever did. Before doing Nano, I would have disagreed with you about editing while writing. But after Nano, after writing 50,000 words without stopping to edit, I am very happy with the end result.

  56. Have really enjoyed this post. I am currently editing the life out of a partially written first draft and it’s hurting me. I can’t stop going back over and reading / editing. It’s making my brain ache! Think I need to stop and just write the damn thing. Thx for your great post!

  57. I do a safe edit. everything I’m waiting to delete, I copy/paste into a WordPad, slap it in my darlings folder, where it says safe and sound that and my chapters are regularly loaded on to a hard disk stick thing. Dang, it what’s it called again? Flash drive. Right! The flash drive they live in the fash!

    It’s so easy to go back and put things back if I messed up. ^-^

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