Friday, March 31, 2017

Editing: Lexi's Rules and Tools, a guest post by Lexi Nolletti

Happy Friday, everyone! Shannon here. Before we get to today's guest post, I need to take care of a bit of housekeeping.

Stephanie, Jill and I will be filming our next Go Teen Writers LIVE video panels soon and I wanted to share the names of those who were randomly selected to provide questions for the upcoming panels. We were able to contact two of you, but if you have not received an email from either Stephanie or me regarding this, please email me at admin @ We need to figure out a better way to locate winners. So hang in there with us as we navigate this hiccup.

The winners are:

KatyMarie Frost
Florid Sword

If you're new and would like more information on Go Teen Writers LIVE and how you can participate, click here.

NOW! It is my pleasure to introduce you all to Lexi Nolletti. She's sharing her editing process with us today and I hope you pick up a few tricks that will make your life a little easier. I love peeking into someone else's workplace. Don't you?

Lexi Nolletti has been writing for as long as she can remember and specializes in science fiction and fantasy. When not writing, she enjoys reading, competing with her school's Speech and Debate team, performing with the Drama Club, playing piano, violin, and singing.

Like most writers, I used to hate editing. No, I loathed it. I used to abandon stories I loved because I didn’t want to edit them.

But not anymore.

I’ve been writing seriously for about five years, but didn’t figure out how to efficiently and enjoyably edit until about two years ago. The moment I did, I began to produce stronger drafts faster than I ever would have imagined was possible.

Today, I’m going to walk you through my editing process and hopefully, inspire you to look at your own work a little more critically.

As much as I love to channel my inner Katniss Everdeen and pretend to be a rebel, I’m the kind of person who likes a little bit of structure. Guidelines, even. And unfortunately for me, there are no obvious guidelines when it comes to editing. So, I came up with some rules for myself.

Rule #1: Don’t make a single change until you’re done with an entire draft.

I do make an exception here and there, because I’m a perfectionist, so I let myself fix things like typos and grammar. But if I can’t fix something in a few keystrokes, I force myself to wait.

I’ve learned from experience that any solutions I come up with immediately aren’t as good as the changes I’d make if I waited a few days. I’m much more likely to come up with an effective solution I can be happy with (and save time) if I just wait.

I also like to take a break between drafts to get my mind off that story entirely. Again, my brain tends to come up with better ideas after it’s had some time to rest. Here’s an example: I’m currently pouring all my energy into polishing my science fiction novel 61210, but when I need to think about something else, I focus on my other WIP, a fantasy novel that is different in almost every way possible.

While taking breaks and thinking about other things is important to editing, it’s nowhere near as important as organization.

Rule #2: Do everything you can to stay organized.

I have a folder on my desktop labeled “Stories” and have a separate folder inside for every idea I’m serious about. Here’s my folder for 61210:

I keep all my brainstorming, outlines, random ideas related to this story, and any critiques I’ve received in this folder. I also keep all my old drafts here. I highlighted those so you could see them.
When an idea first comes to my mind, I plot most of the story, then write my first draft. After a few months, I read through it and rewrite my synopsis, including most changes I want to make to the plot and significant changes I want to make in the tone, mood, etc. (See where it says 61210 revisions?) Most writers call this the Macro Edit, because this is where we try to fix all the big problems.

After writing my second draft, I wait a while then read through that. While reading, I note every change, no matter how small, I want to make, using the comments tool. I write in Microsoft Word, but I know similar tools are available on Google Docs and Word for Mac. Sometimes, I write exactly what I want to change a particular word or phrase to. On other occasions, I’ll just rant about how I dislike something or put “Make this better!” in the comments. When I write my next draft, I copy and paste everything I like into a new document (and save the old one), then make the changes I mentioned in the comments.

Here’s an example from my second draft. This is one of those scenes that felt really witty when I first wrote it, but felt really stupid when I looked at it again while editing. Towards the bottom of the page, 61210 (my protagonist) is wondering if the code she has instead of a name has any meaning. Here were my initial thoughts while editing this draft:

I obviously didn’t accomplish much while editing this draft, but just like anything else your editing will get better with practice. The longer I used this process, the more critical I became of my own work. And that’s great! Once I hit my fourth or fifth draft, I was making five or six comments on every page. It became addicting. Granted, not all of these things were bad, they could just be better. And that’s exactly what editing is all about. Making the stories, or poems, or essays we already love, better.

Here’s another example, from my sixth draft. Notice how I’m more specific about the changes I wanted to make than I was while editing my second draft. This is what most writers call the Micro Edit, because this is when we fix all the teeny-tiny stuff. In this scene, 61210 and 23945 (my other main character) are hiding from my antagonist, Dr. Greg. 23945 is in his bed, pretending to be asleep; 61210 is under the mattress:

I can proudly say that this scene is a lot better than it used to be. But it wasn’t exactly easy to get there; which leads us to the final rule I adhere to when I write.

Rule #3: Don’t get discouraged.

I struggle with this a lot, especially when I’m reading a really good novel. I start to think that I’ll never be able to write something as inspiring or captivating as the book sitting on my nightstand. Or I think that I’ll never be able to fix that plot hole. I’ll never find the right words to express the things I want to express.

Sometimes, when I start to lose my motivation, I like to look back at an earlier draft of my manuscript and read through the section I’m working on. I usually cringe at my poor word choice, grammatical mistakes, and awkward phrasing. But then I look back at my current draft and realize that I managed to transform an odd arrangement of words into a story I’m proud of. Just like that, I’m back in the right mindset and can’t wait to make what I already have even better.

That’s probably the biggest reason why I keep all my old drafts. Sometimes I don’t like a change I’ve made and want to see what I did before, but most of the time I just love seeing how far I’ve come. 
So, the next time you finish a draft, take a break. Celebrate with a bowl of ice cream. Or three. Have a dance party. Work on that other idea you’ve been tossing around in your mind.

When you’re ready to start editing, set some rules for yourself. Try to eliminate distractions and don’t let yourself get discouraged. Find the editing tools in whatever program you write in, and get ready to make things better. If you get discouraged, look at how far you’ve come. Celebrate your successes, even the small ones. And never, ever give up.

How do you edit? Do you have rules for yourself when you write? Any successes you’d like to share? I’d love to celebrate them with you!


  1. This is such a great post. I've recently started the second draft of a book that I have been working on, and I will keep all of this in mind when doing so. Thanks for the awesome insight!

  2. You're welcome! I'm glad this helped!

  3. I finished my first draft in January and I started editing in February. Currently my tactic is to read my draft, and then at each thing that I see is wrong, I write down how I need to fix it in another document.

    It's strangely fun.

  4. This is exactly what I needed today! I'm still trying to figure out how to edit, but I have a general idea of what I'm going to do. Thanks for the tips!

  5. Squee! I'm so pumped to see yet another Order of the Pen member featured here! Way to go, Lexi. I love this post!

    ~Sarah R.

  6. Great article, Lexi! I also have found a lot of value in taking breaks, and one of my rules is that I take 6 weeks off between finishing a first draft and starting edits. It's much easier to be ruthless with your writing when you didn't JUST write it.

    Thanks for being with us today!

  7. I don't really have that many rules. I just started editing. Right now I am trying to build more of a plot around a magical rose. This was a great post by the way. I totally get what you mean when you come back to a scene and find that it is completely unnecessary.
    - Book Dragon

    1. For me, the first editing step is always reworking the plot, so you're on the right track!

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  9. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us, Lexi! Editing is my favorite and my process is always evolving but I agree with you that organization is HUGE!

  10. Last year I discovered the idea of an anti-edit, where the first thing you do when you pick up the first draft (after the month or six weeks of not looking at it) is to go through and highlight all the good things in it. Then they make the standard for what you raise the other half to. I tried it with one of my novels and it worked really nicely. That way, too, when you're just going into editing it isn't quite so depressing.

    1. That sounds like a great idea! I'll have to try it sometime

  11. A rule I need to enforce with myself is that my first draft isn't going to be perfect, so I can't just go changing everything that doesn't look right. I get discouraged when I look at my favorite book and see how well it's written and also look at everyone else's wonderful writing on this page. Then, I look at mine and it looks awful to me. :(
    Comparing yourself to other people isn't going to magically perfect your writing (I wish), but just doing the work is going to help. Hopefully during the summer I can finish my fist draft (Screams and begs my brain to work overtime). What do you guys think? I'm on page 6. Six. Do you think I can finish this draft from now to the end of summer?

    1. If you love your story, you can definitely finish it! And I really struggle with comparison in my writing too. That's why I try to compare my current writing to my past writing, rather than to anyone else's.

    2. I think that would be the best thing. Thanks for your great post, Lexi!!! :)

    3. Go, go, LHE! You can do it!

    4. Thanks, Olivia!!! :)

    5. You can do it! I have great faith in you!

    6. Thanks, Sarah! I'm glad you think so! :)

    7. You can do this, LHE!!! :D

    8. Thanks you!!! You guys are encouraging! :)

  12. I'm currently editing my first story, big and small things. Hopefully it will come out a lot better than before; that is the point after all! LOL!

    1. I can't wait until you get it all done....and then PUBLISHING! I'll be the first person in line to read it! :)
      Good luck with your editing!