Most people think writing a book happens in just two stages:

  1. the rough draft
  2. the final polish

I’ve actually had disagreements with successful author friends about which part of this is the most valuable – you can outsource the rough writing part and fine tune it; or you can rough draft it and pay for editing. But an editor will rarely make the significant changes necessary to pull a real book out of a crapton of rough notes, which is why the best revisions will come on your end even before you hire an editor.

But it can be overwhelming trying to do everything at once. In my experience, my novels usually go through about 4 specific stages where I tackle different things in a useful order, which looks like this:

  1. what actually happens (plot)
  2. why is this stuff happening (motivation)
  3. what does it all look like (description)
  4. proofreading and editing (typos, etc).

Here’s a video/case study where I apply this formula to a specific novel I was working on. It’s tough to do any of this quickly; editing can be a messy process that makes the book worse before it gets better, but it’s worth it! 

There’s a “5th step” I stumbled into while making this video…


We love this short video by Polly Courtney about the four stages of editing. It’s a great introduction to what it takes to get a manuscript ready for publication.