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Top 5 Edits Mistakes Writers Make

All About Edits

Do you love edits, or loathe them? Since I am a script editor, luckily I love them! That said, I recognise it can be a daunting process for many writers. Often this is because they just don’t know where to start, or whether they’re doing it ‘right’.

I have worked with LOADS of writers now, both screenwriters and novelists. Here’s the top 5 mistakes I see writers make on edits all the time, plus what to do about them. Let’s go …

1) Starting Micro (Instead Of Macro)

Too many writers sweat the small stuff on their edits process. They will ‘focus in’ on teeny-tiny moments or stuff like proofing from the very beginning. This means they get lost and bogged down, since they literally can’t see the wood for the trees! Eeek!

So, instead of ‘starting micro’ like this, go MACRO with your edits … Look at the bigger picture, ie. the story as a whole. Beginning holistically (and bringing it in small, piece by piece) means you are much less likely to make epic editing mistakes. MORE: 12 Writers Share Their Rewriting Secrets

2) Saving Darlings

Every writer has heard the editing advice, ‘kill your darlings’. But the sad fact is, too many writers get hung up on stuff they love. This means they end up wanting to keep extraneous moments, characters, scenes, chapters, even whole drafts! This can literally screw up their chances of writing a great script or novel, or even getting it picked up. Supersadface.

There’s no other edits tip here than GET REAL. You must be tough with yourself and accept necessary cuts will have to be made. Yes, it stings. But the good news is, no writing is ever wasted. If this *thing* you love is so great, you can stick it in another story. Boom.

3) Throwing Baby Out With The Bathwater

This is when writers are adept at ‘killing darlings’ … but they become SERIAL KILLERS with it! This is especially true of screenwriters, who might become so used to page 1 rewrites they believe they ‘have’ to go at every draft with a chainsaw. However, it can happen with novelists too.

Writers need to understand what’s GOOD about their drafts, as well as ‘bad’ … They also need to understand how to use feedback effectively on their edits.

Understanding and utilising feedback is a skill in itself, which is why I always recommend writers learn it. It can literally help you with writing and editing! Otherwise you are freaking out in the dark, chopping stuff out with all the skill of a lumberjack on drugs. Nothangyew. MORE: 5 Ways To Use Feedback Effectively

4) Knee-Jerking

Closely linked to number 3 on the list, this mistake can cost writers dear on their edits. What usually happens is they send their work out to beta readers, peer reviewers and script consultants … They get feedback … And then they FREAK OUT!

This then leads to what I call ‘knee-jerking’ as they struggle to rewrite, according to every single piece of feedback they get. But this is a huuuuuuuge issue, since the feedback may  …

  • … Be contradictory (so which one is the ‘right one’?)
  • … Hijack the writer’s vision (some feedback-givers may want a story to be written ‘their’ way)
  • … Be unsuitable (some feedback is good, but just isn’t right for the project)
  • … Miss the point (sometimes you are both talented, just not on the same page)
  • … Be bad (some feedback-givers are just shit at giving feedback, INCLUDING pro writers!)

Never, ever knee-jerk with your edits. Instead, let the feedback ‘settle’ in your brain as you sift through it. It’s the only way to find the good stuff.

Yes, this includes when you are writing FOR a deadline, producer or publisher. No industry pro worth their salt insists a writer comes up with a viable solution for edits RIGHT THAT SECOND. If they do, they are unreasonable and amateur … Walk away!!!

5) No ‘To Do’ List

This one links back to point 1 on this list. Writers get scared or daunted by edits because they’re not really sure what they entail. With this in mind then, I advocate the use of TO DO lists, with my ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ idea in mind.


  • Structure/ plotting >> ie. plotting archetypes; structural approach; non-linearity and timelines; ‘drawing the story’; individual scenes and how they relate to set up/ pay off; cause/effect etc
  • Characterisation >> ie. archetypes;  character motivations; dynamics, role functions and relationships between the characters; their individual worldviews/heritage
  • Storyworld >> how does it inform the story and the characters within it? Why? 
  • Dialogue >> Does every character have their own way of speaking? If you took their name away, could someone tell who this? 
  • Genre/Style >> Are the specific conventions or expectations you MUST meet for your target audience? How about tropes etc you should AVOID, because they are stale, overused or even offensive? 


  • Continuity
  • Format (screenplays only)
  • Punctuation / Grammar
  • Proofing

Now, the above is not an exhaustive list, but should get you started. Good luck!

Happy Editing!

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