Before You Hit Send Sample Lesson

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by Angela James

How to Start Edits

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The lessons come with a variety of learning paths and supplemental information or action items to help you implement and learn the way that feels best for you! 

Where to Start Edits text lesson

Hello, let’s talk about the thing that causes writer-paralysis, leaves you spending more time cruising social media than making progress on your manuscript, and causes endless frustration. The thing that maybe can cause you to fall out of love with the story you once loved so much…

HOW do I edit this daggone book and where the heck do I start?

Knowing where to start and how to tackle edits is sometimes not just half the battle but can sometimes be the full battle because facing these questions can bring everything to a grinding halt. So let’s get you into the proper mindset and give some starting points!

The editing checklist is an excellent tool to have handy as you start edits, especially if you’re someone who’s new to editing or never worked with an editor before. That checklist can give you a road map for what comes next but also give you some easy things to check off!

When you start edits, remember the order in which edits should take place:

Stage 1: Developmental Edits (big picture edits, pacing, story arc, plot, conflict, characterization, relationship development…).

Stage 2: Line Edits (sentence and paragraph level, look at craft, language, sentence structure, creative writing. It’s not about the errors, it’s about the *way* you write…).

Stage 3: Copy Edits (fact-checking, grammar, punctuation, detail consistency…).

Stage 4: Proofreading (the final polish and fine-tuning).

*A note about the editing stages: each stage may include multiple passes of that type of edit (for instance, you may do two or three stages of Content Edits). And while there may be some overlap between adjacent stages, where you do some line editing along with content edits, for instance, there will be minimal overlap between Stage 4 (Proofreading) and Stages 1 and 2 (Content Edits and Line Edits).

You may be tired of hearing me say this but you may be tempted to start with the proofreading and copy editing because those are so concrete and easier to achieve, but don’t get distracted by these micro changes when you haven’t yet done the macro changes.

Doing that will cost you more time in the long run because you’ll be fiddling with things that will change as you make content and line edits.

So the first step in saving yourself time is starting in the right place.

But, Angela, what is the right place?

Glad you asked, Author!

Let me give you the worst possible answer and then give you some ways to narrow it down.

It depends.

Arrgh, the worst! The actual worst!

But it does depend. For each of you, the process is going to look a little different so what you’re going to do is start developing your process.

As you grow as a writer, your editing process will evolve and change. The editing process is a lengthy one the first few times you write and edit a book because you’re growing your craft, learning your trouble spots, and figuring out where you shine. Give yourself time and room to go through this process because there’s no hurry (don’t rush your learning) when you’re first starting out.

Those of you who are already publishing? If editing isn’t going so well for you or books aren’t selling or reviews are tanking your editing, you might also benefit from taking some time to go through this more lengthy editing process on a book so you can start thinking even more analytically about your work.

All of that said, when you look at the steps below, it’s up to you to decide which ones will fit into a manageable editing process. Depending on your writing and editing experience, you may need fewer steps.

With that said, here’s my suggestion for where to start may look initially as you learn to edit your own work.

  1. As you’re writing the book, make note of trouble spots. Places where you got stuck, where you struggled to find the right rhythm, where the characters may have felt they weren’t cooperating.
  2. Finish the book.
    • Now, some people like to edit as they go, and that’s totally fine. You can adapt this process to work for you if that’s your jam! But if you’re not making a lot of process in getting to “The End” because you keep editing and re-editing, well…then you should finish the book, even just a rough draft, and then edit.
  3. Let it rest for at least a week.
    • That means don’t look at it, don’t speak to it, don’t open the file. This is hard! But you can be jotting notes for yourself as you’re letting it rest. If you have more time, a few weeks is even better. Give yourself some distance. Start writing the next book. Focus on your newsletter, your website, your social media. There are other things you can be doing during this time!
  4. After the rest period, read the whole book from start to finish.
    • Here you have to figure out what works for you. Giving yourself time to read the whole thing from front to back without long periods of interruption for editing allows you to better see the entire picture of the book and get a sense of the pacing, what’s working, what isn’t, what’s missing and what needs to be further developed. Instead of stopping to edit, take notes on areas you notice need your particular attention.
    • What types of things are you looking for in this read? Pacing, story arc, character arc, characterization, relationship development, mystery/suspense/thriller development, the beginning, the end, world building, timeline. Basically, you’re making sure that all the things that were in your head that need to be on page are on page, and that the story works as a whole unit, and is enjoyable for the reader.
    • Don’t forget to take note of the parts that you really like and think you did well. You need to work in the high points while you’re critiquing your own work, but it’s also great to notice what you rock at, so you can do more of it!
  5. Decision time: what part of the story that you took notes on has the most overarching impact on the entire book? Plot? World building? Relationship development? Suspense elements? Conflict? Work on this first. There may be a few big things you’re tackling at the same time, such as characterization and relationship development, but don’t try to focus on all the things all at once. You’re honing your skills so take them one at a time.
  6. Now move on to other content edits and edit for those. Keep a checklist that you can run down as you address different things.
  7. Time to read the book again from start to finish so you can get the bird’s-eye view of the story and all of the changes you’ve made and new elements you’ve incorporated.
  8. Do any additional content edits needed.
  9. NOW you can move to line editing. If you haven’t already, this is where listening can come in handy. Listen to a few chapters to get a sense of your writing style, sentence structure, craft, rhythm, etc.
  10. After line edits, you get to move on to the fun, easier things to look for on the copy editing checklist.
  11. And proofread.
  12. Then read the book again one last time!


I want to reiterate, this is an editing process meant to give you a structured way of breaking down how you look at your work, especially as an early writer. As you begin to publish, this longer process may not always be possible, but the general structure of it should be the same:

Stage 1: Developmental/Content Edits.

Stage 2: Line Editing.

Stage 3: Copy Editing.

Stage 4: Proofreading.


TAKE ACTION: Using the worksheet on pages 14–15 of your Course Workbook, begin outlining the process you’re going to use for edits, so you have it to refer to when you’re ready to begin editing. This will prevent you from flailing and trying to find your notes from this course and spending time figuring out how to start. Instead, with your process outlined, you’ll be able to get right to it!

AI PROMPT: This one is going to require you to do some work first. The idea here is to use ChatGPT to think of things to look at in the editing process that you might overlook or not think of initially.

Step 1: Go through this lesson and the editing checklist lesson and make a list of everything that you want to put on your editing checklist (You can use the provided checklist as an example).

Step 2: Put a prompt similar to this into AI: playing the role of a fiction novel editor, analyze this list: [paste your list here]

Step 3: After ChatGPT responds, continue the conversation with this prompt: what additional items should be included in the area of developmental edits?

Step 4: Continue the conversation, asking it questions about additional edit areas, give it specific directions about what genre and subgenre you write and ask it to expand your list with that knowledge, or tell it some of the areas you struggle with and ask it to suggest additional areas to expand your checklist.

Step 5: Once you have a list, enter this prompt “Please put all of the items into a checklist format I can copy into a document.” Or you can ask it to create a table (give it header names) or a spreadsheet. You decide!

Course Workbook: Action Guide: Editing Process, pp. 14–15


If you haven’t already looked at the workbook pages “How to Develop Your Editing Checklist” and “How to Develop Your Style Guide,” READ THOSE NOW.

Those two worksheets will give you a road map for navigating the creation of your checklist and style guide and help you focus on how you’re developing not just those concrete actionable lists, but also will help you focus on growing your editing confidence.

I hope you enjoyed this sample lesson from Before You Hit Send! Find more like this, plus specific lessons on all 4 stages of edits, in the course!