When writing a novel, take your time

Michael Mohr

by Michael Mohr

A-number-one advice for new writers especially: don’t rush the process. Man, oh man. How many writers think they’re going to hand me their first or second draft of a novel and after one developmental edit they’re going to be done? Far too many. In this new landscape of twenty-first century “everyone’s a writer” world, the culture has simply been infected with the idea that “anyone can do it.’ This isn’t to mock or knock anyone. Believe me. I take every e-mail I receive seriously. But my point is this: respect the craft of writing.

Like anything—plumbing, law, construction, acting—there is much to learn before you can really write a serious novel. Some go to college and do the MFA. Some join a professional workshop. Some simply read constantly and write every day. There is no one right way to become a writer. Mostly I think it’s about drive, ambition, life experience, and perseverance. Ambitious, nascent writers will go to writers’ conferences, join critique groups, carve out a daily or several-times-weekly writing discipline. They take it seriously. When they write a novel, they go through half a dozen or more drafts before even considering it anywhere near being “done.”


Writing a book is like raising a child: It’ll wake you up in the middle of the night, torturing you. It’ll scream at you when you’re so tired you feel like you can’t go on. It takes love and every ounce of your attention.


I’m not saying a writer can’t approach me—or any other editor—early in the stages of their novel-in-progress or their career. They can and should. But be aware that when you do, at this early stage, you will most likely be asked—encouraged—to follow up with several developmental edits. This isn’t because I want your money and am trying to squeeze you. Yes, I do editing more or less full-time, and yes, I need to eat and survive. But, honestly, it’s really all about the fact that serious novels take serious time and care.

Novelist Gabriel Tallent (My Absolute Darling) took eight years to finish the final draft of his debut book. It took Stephanie Danler many, many years and drafts, and much hardship, to create Sweetbitter. Emma Cline took several years writing The Girls. My former neo-Nazi skinhead client (now an anti-hate activist), Christian Picciolini, worked on his book, White American Youth, for years, then worked with me for a full year before his book was released in early 2018 by Hachette Book Group. (He now has an MSNBC docuseries airing called “Breaking Hate.”)

My point? It takes time. Be patient. Respect the process and the craft. Don’t rush it. Accept that you’re going to have to spend time and money. No, it’s not as easy as the media may make it seem. Writing a book is like raising a child. Think of it that way. It’ll wake you up in the middle of the night, torturing you. It’ll scream at you when you’re so tired you feel like you can’t go on. It takes finesse and kindness and love and every ounce of your energy and attention and respect.

I specialize in developmental editing, focusing on plot and structure and voice and tone and dialogue and character development and logic issues and scene-vs-summary. I zoom the camera out and look at the big picture of your novel or memoir. I will look at almost any type of book, except for children’s (YA is fine) or fantasy. If you’re seeking an editor, please get in touch with me. I am more than happy to assist you from the very early stages, but be aware of what, precisely, you are jumping into. You’ll likely spend six months or even a year. You’ll spend money. But you’ll grow as a writer, and you’ll end up with a strong, drum-tight, diamond-sharp product.

It’s up to you, writers. You said it, let’s edit!

Michael Mohr is a published, Pushcart Prize–nominated writer, former literary agent’s assistant, and freelance book editor. His fiction has been published in Concho River Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Bethlehem Writers’ Roundtable, Fiction Magazines, Tincture, and more. His blog pieces have been included in Writers’ Digest, Writer Unboxed, Creative Penn, and MASH. A recent editing client accomplishment is a memoir, White American Youth, by Christian Picciolini, a former neo Nazi who changed his life. (Hachette, Dec 26, 2017.) Christian’s docuseries, “Breaking Hate,” is airing now on MSNBC. Michael edits memoir, adult literary and commercial novels, YA and suspense/thriller. His writing/editing website is www.michaelmohrwriter.com.

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