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.

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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The Professional Edit

Note: If you prefer video content, you can access the vlog version here.

Writing is not a solitary task but a collaborative effort. The first draft (and several after) may be crafted with the door to your office firmly closed, but eventually, you will need to let others in. The feedback, critiques and advice from other writers, readers and professionals can help us to see the flaws in our work, such as excessive use of filter words, repetitive phrases, redundant sentences, plot holes, inconsistencies, and incomplete character/story arcs.  Novels contain multiple moving parts, so it’s easy for a writer to make a mistake. This is why editors exist: to help writers turn good stories into great stories.

If you are fortunate enough to get a deal with a traditional publishing house, then your manuscript will go through multiple rounds of editing. If you are interested in self-publishing, then I urge you to have your manuscript edited. Readers are savvy. They don’t want to pay $2.99 for a novel that is actually a first draft. Readers want good stories and if you are a self-published author, it’s your responsibility to make sure you are putting forward the best, most professional content that you can. That means you need to get your work to an editor.

However, before you go sending your manuscript off to the first person you find online, it’s important that you understand the different types of editing available. And by the way, if you are serious about being a writer then you should hire a professional editor for the following three processes: structural/developmental edit, copyedit and proofread. You may have to hire different editors for all three stages, or you may find an editor who offers all three.

A word of advice, if you hire an editor to do the structural/developmental edit and copyedit, it may be wise to hire a different editor to do the final proofread. Why? If an editor has performed both the structural and copy edit on your manuscript, they may miss errors/typos during the proofreading stage because they have become overly familiar with the work.

Structural/Developmental Editing

Structural editing focuses intensely on the novels core drive: character and plot. Typically, a structural editor will read your entire manuscript while taking careful note of how each element of the story is working. They will analyse your work for consistency, believability and effectiveness with a particular focus on big-picture elements such as:

  • Voice/style
  • Plot
  • Pacing
  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Story Arc
  • Character Arc.

Some structural editors may also provide feedback regarding the manuscripts potential target audience and its overall marketability.

Structural editors will provide a report that analyses the quality of your manuscript. This may take the form of a letter that discusses the manuscript as a whole, or they may provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. Either way, this report should identify:

  • Plot holes
  • Inconsistencies
  • Lack of tension
  • Pacing issues
  • Irrelevant characters, scenes or plot development
  • Believability of characters
  • Whether the work is engaging
  • Areas of confusion, particularly in SciFi and Fantasy.

Structural edits do not focus on the manuscript on a line level (sentence-by-sentence). Instead, it is looking at the bigger picture and how the novel hangs together. For this reason, the structural edit should be the first round of editing your manuscript goes through.


Copyediting, or what some call line level editing, focuses on the manuscript on a sentence-by-sentence level. Here, editors are looking for problems regarding:

  • Grammar
  • Style
  • Repetition
  • Word usage
  • Jargon
  • Filter words
  • Dialogue
  • Unclear character motivations.

The copyediting phase should not occur until after the structural edit has been completed. There is no point in fixing an entire scene, sentence-by-sentence, only to have that scene deleted because it isn’t furthering the plot. These types of edits typically occur as in-document critiques using track changes. 


Once all the large structural issues with your manuscript have been fixed and you’ve carefully examined every sentence for clarity and quality, you can then move on to the final round of editing: the proofread. Like I said earlier, if you used the same editor for the structural edit and copyedit, it may be wise to hire a different editor (someone unfamiliar with your work) to do the proofread. It never hurts to have a fresh set of eyes—especially when it comes to editing! Proofreading is the lightest form of editing as it focuses on minor errors such as:

  • Grammar and style (e.g., tense, measuring units, consistency with numerals and words such as “5” or “five”)
  • Capitalisation and punctuation (e.g., correct usage of commas, semicolons, colons, periods, dashes and apostrophes)
  • Spelling and word usage (e.g., to/too, affect/effect).

You may be tempted to skip the proofreading stage, but please don’t. You’ve already put so much work into polishing and editing your manuscript, the last thing you want is to receive an email from a reader highlighting all the typos and errors that were missed during the copyediting phase.


Critiques are not a part of the editing process, but they can be tremendously useful. You can pay a professional to critique your manuscript (I offer such services), or you can approach other readers or writers who may be willing to critique your work for free. Critiques focus on the major issues in your manuscript and a good critique should focus on big-picture elements such as:

  • Voice/style
  • Plot
  • Pacing
  • Timeline
  • Characterisation
  • Story Arc
  • Character Arc.

You can have a critique partner provide feedback of your manuscript as a whole, or you can ask them to provide chapter-by-chapter reports that focus on elements such as:

  • Plot holes
  • Inconsistencies
  • Point of View Issue
  • Dialogue
  • Description (too much or too little)
  • Areas of confusions, particularly in SciFi and Fantasy
  • Sensitive/ethical issues or anything else that may harm your chances of publication.

Before you hire a structural editor or look for a professional critique, it would be wise to exhaust all free resources at your disposal, this includes beta readers, critique groups and critique partners. That way, your manuscript is in the best condition is can be before you invest in professional feedback.

Editing a manuscript can be hard work, but if you find an editor you ‘click’ with then this collaborative effort can be deeply rewarding.

If you have a short story, novella or novel that you believe could benefit from a professional critique, you can find my list of services here.