Structural Edits part One

In this blog, I’m unpacking my own specific, messy, imperfect, and exploratory approach to structural editing.

When we see how other writers approach their writing process, it give us ideas on how we might approach our own work, which is why I am sharing this post.

Rather than dashing off the below post as an overly idiosyncratic process, I invite you to think about how some of these approaches or methods could be applied to your own work.

Right now, I’m smack bang in the juicy part of the writing process where I have gone through five drafts and come up with a mass of content that I’m relatively happy with.

What I’ve learnt over the last seven years is that my process messy, fluid, and changing, but it’s the only way I know how to write.

The creative process is not stagnant or fixed, it evolves over time. At least, that’s how it is for me.

Perhaps I’m still trying to find my process and maybe that’s what this blog and my YouTube channel are all about: a way to document the discovery of my creative practice.

Over the course of this year, I’ve been working on the fifth draft of act one, two and three. When I finished a section, I sent it off to my supervisor and moved onto the next. (You could share your work with beta readers, critique partners, or your writing group).

We need others to read our stories and provide feedback because we can’t see our work clearly.

Once I received my last round of feedback, it was time to look at the story I’d actually written, rather than the idealisation version in my head, and to consider what changes needed to be made to make this book the best novel it could be.

For the sake of your reading experience, I’ll present my approach in a somewhat linear fashion, but it’s important to think about the creative process as a cycle, or better yet, a spiral where you start at a particular point and then drill down, further and deeper into the work by questioning what you are doing, stepping back, brainstorming, conducting further research, and all the while tweaking the outline in front of you.

After receiving my initial feedback, I realised the first thing I needed to do was fix act three.

Why? Because act three is where everything comes together.

If I know what is going to happen in act three, then I also know what needs to happen in acts one and two. Basically, you’re reverse engineering the plot by starting at the end and then working your way backwards.

Wait, shouldn’t I have done this from the beginning?

Probably, but my brain (at least for now) doesn’t seem to work that way. I tend to write in a linear fashion from the perceived beginning, following my nose until I reach the conclusion.

I let the story lead the way.

Now, there is a reason why people write outlines and figure out the ending first, because letting my nose lead the way resulted in a few things: unresolved loops, simplicity, and overwriting/lazy writing. (In many scenes, I was documenting the characters’ movements as I followed them throughout the day. I became a digital stalker who was tracking and recording my characters movements in a word document!).

To fix your novel, you must first come up with a plan.

I sat back and looked at the threads of my story. What did I really want to say with this book and what was the book actually saying right now? Before I did anything else, I needed to work out the theme.

Theme is not a single word or a question. Love, family, loyalty, ‘what does it mean to be a good person?’ are not themes.

Theme is a statement, and within my own work I was seeking to combine four disparate topics: woman, animals, the Anthropocene and the trickster.

I had to figure out how these four topics were connected, and most importantly, what I was saying about that connection.

Figuring this out pretty much broke my brain.

Q: So, how did I pickle this cucumber?

A: Mind maps + productive meditation. (I will speak more about this next week!).

I also palmed the problem off to my subconscious.

What do I mean by this?

The brain is a super computer that LOVES to solve problems. Problem solving is totally it’s jam and I had one hell of a creative problem to solve, so I gave it over to my subconscious.

After doodling with some mind maps as a way to get my brain thinking about the story and to slip into a ‘flow state,’ I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down: What is the connection between woman, animals, the Anthropocene and the trickster? What is the theme of my novel?

Then I closed my notebook and went for a long walk where I thought about other aspects of the novel that I wanted to address.

When I came back to my outline the following day, and once I’d settled myself into the work (see ‘flow state’ again), I pulled out a fresh piece of paper and started a new mind map.

Within ten minutes I landed on an answer.


Once I knew the theme of the novel, I felt as though I had a direction. Something to work towards during the drafting of act three.

As indicated by the title, this blog is a two parter. In next week’s post, I share how knowing the theme directed the restructuring of the novel, and I include plenty of tips about how creative exploration can lead to a way better outline.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you find it helpful to see how other writers approach different stages of the creative process? Do you enjoy structural editing? How does your approach differ to the one shared above? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.

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