JOANNA ELM, Author, Journalist, Attorney

A Week (of edits and revisions) In The Sun


Sometimes, it’s good to have a change of scenery — even if your writing has to come with you. I’m into edits and revisions on Book 3 at the moment. It’s a stage that lends itself particularly well to lounging around with your pages on a beach chair under a shady umbrella with an ocean breeze wafting in to keep the sweat from dripping off your fingers onto the paper. So here’s my week with pictures:


Sunrise over Palm Beach


From Shitty First Drafts

Early morning is a great time for collecting advice and tips on the editing tasks ahead

I like to start first thing in the morning (when it’s still dark-ish outside) by reading about the editing process for inspiration. Sometimes I google phrases like  “famous authors on editing” or I read my dog-eared copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, or I’ll read about the methodical, meticulous editing process of my former London Evening News colleague, now best selling author Ken Follett (no reworking of the first draft, he keys in every single word of the novel again incorporating suggested edits.)

I also read articles I find through my Twitter feed as well as on platforms like Medium. However, I was pretty astounded this week to read an article on a Medium publication, suggesting that you ask beta readers to read your very first draft.  REALLY!!!  I don’t know of a single writer (among those I personally know) who would inflict a “shitty” first draft on anyone they know, love or respect. I’m sure that writer meant the first draft you’re “reasonably” happy with — which of course is not ever the first draft you actually produce. Unless, you’re Ken Follett (see above) and you have an agent and an assigned editor to read your outline before you’ve even completed the first draft!

Amazingly Helpful Articles on Editing

This week, I found two really helpful articles on the editing process. The first in The Writer suggested there are seven draft stages an author must go through to produce a readable work. The first being the “kitchen sink” draft or “the vomit out” draft, and the seventh being the “I Love This Story” draft (“I feel I’ve hit my stride, I start to polish.”) The second article, Five Ways To Improve a First Draft focusses on the step an author has to take just before he/she actually picks up the red pencil or pen (“take a look at your novel in its entirety… question the structure…make sure [the] novel works as a story…do the central characters drive the story…is there sufficient conflict…what is [the] novel really about?”)

My own personal favorite checklist as to the entirety of the story is on K.M. Weiland’s website  It’s titled The Great Novel-Writing Checklist, and it’s an indispensable tool for any author writing commercial fiction. I used it most recently after I finished my first draft. It’s more useful then, I think, than when you’re starting the novel.

One Chapter At A Time

All the tools I need for editing (that’s coffee on the side, not a glass of wine)

My editing process continues with printing up one chapter a day from the first draft and then working on it by inserting edits, revisions –and marking up deletions– in pen. It also includes inserting additional information from notes I’ve made to myself along the way, or information that needed research. For example, in one of my chapters I refer to an old newspaper story about a serial killer executed in 1977, I needed to make sure that the term “serial killer” was already in existence back then. I’d made a note while watching the Netflix TV series Mindhunter set in the 70s that serial killers were described as sequence killers for some time during the 70s, so I needed to check that the term was being used at the time of my particular back story (It seems that it was.)

Exercise Is A Must

Pool at Breakers West — a community where every house has its own pool, so I had this one all to myself last Thursday

Tennis is a hot and thirsty workout in Florida sun

Once, my revisions and edits are complete for a particular chapter, I set them aside, and it’s time to get physically active. It’s a little easier to lose track of time when you’re working on edits and revisions than when you’re facing a blank, white page. And, sometimes you just don’t want to stop when it’s going really well. But if you’ve completed your quota for the day (one chapter), then it’s time to get one’s butt out of the chair or off the chaise lounge. I’m seeing many more articles about exercise and workouts for writers because even when you’re done with your novel writing for the day, there’s still an excuse to stay in your workspace to answer emails, read your Twitter feed, or catch up on the news of the day. Sure, it’s easier to exercise outside in nice weather — which is why I made the most of it last week: tennis, swimming — and a long walk over the new Flagler Memorial Bridge.

Completing the Process

The new Flagler Memorial Bridge has an eight-foot wide walking lane on either side

At Breakers West Grille Room, best BLT ever – topped with avocado slices and swirls of mayo. Yum!

After lunch, or at the end of the day,  I input the new edits and revisions into the manuscript on my lap top. I use Scrivener which is an unbeatable software for authors. For example, there is a snapshot feature that allows an author to compare the current edited version with the first draft without moving from the page or “window.” Comparisons can even be made paragraph for paragraph, word for word — although in my case that just makes for a nauseating sea of red with strikethroughs on every line of my first draft. I can’t wait for my next draft (Will that be called the second revised draft?)

And Then, There’s Hemingway

There’s no rule of thumb as to how many drafts are necessary in any editing process as this following snippet from a Paris Review interview with Ernest Hemingway in 1956 shows. The author mentioned that he rewrote the ending of A Farewell To Arms 39 times before he was satisfied with it.

“Interviewer: Was there some technical problem? What was it that stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.”

I’m happy I have something in common with The Great One.







  1. Great stuff again!! Must say Palm Beach looks a lot better than Ontario right now 🙂

    • Happy you like it. I aim to make posts like these useful for both Indie authors and those who plan going the traditionally published route. And, I’m pretty sure PB was warmer than Ontario last week!!!!

  2. I agree with Stephen King that the first draft should be written behind closed doors and to never let anyone see it. My first draft is beyond awful. It takes quite a number of revisions before I get it to my beta readers.
    The BLT looks delicious.

    • Totally agree on no-one seeing first draft. In a way, that gives you total freedom to write what you want as the words come to you. And yes, the BLT really sinful!

  3. I don’t know how you can work outside! I get swept away at gazing at the ocean or listening to the waves and end up relaxing. Oh, and BTW I want to join you for one of those BLT’s! Looks so delicious! Welcome back to Palm Beach.

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