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5 Common Mistakes Writers Make with Developmental Editing

Bijgewerkt op: 31 aug. 2023

Do you make these common developmental editing mistakes?

After you’ve finished your first draft, the first edit you do is a developmental edit. This is also known as a structural edit or content edit. This is the time when you take your first draft and mold it into an exciting story. However, doing your own developmental editing can be difficult, which means there are also several mistakes you can make while you’re editing.

Below you can find more information on what developmental editing is and what common errors in developmental editing exist.

5 common mistakes writers make with developmental editing

What is developmental editing?

Developmental editing is a big picture edit. It’s concerned with the main plot, subplots, character development, worldbuilding, and pacing. All of the ingredients you need to craft a compelling story are present in a developmental edit. Only after you’re happy with your content do you start with line and copy edits.

In my opinion, a developmental edit is one of the most important parts of your entire editing process. If you spend time on anything, spend time on this editing stage. It’s likely you’ll need to do several rounds of developmental editing before your story is solid.

So, what types of developmental editing mistakes can you make with your novel, and how do you avoid them?


1. Rush through the developmental editing process

I get it; you’ve just finished your first draft, and you’re on a high. You finished something that took a long time to do, and the last thing you want is to go through another long and time-consuming process.

But think about it: if you don’t give your manuscript the time it deserves during developmental editing, all that time you spend writing your first draft will be for nothing.

Take your time to plan out your editing process. Know that it takes time to comb through your draft and find areas that need to be improved. And give yourself some time to brainstorm solutions for any plotholes you encounter and any areas within the plot you feel are still weak.

Give your manuscript the time and attention it deserves.


Want more tips? Watch this video where I share 3 common mistakes writers make when editing, and what you can do instead.

2. Being unwilling to make changes in the story

You spend a lot of time coming up with your story and an even longer time writing it. I completely understand that you don’t want to make any big changes. But when it comes to developmental editing, you have to be willing to change things if it improves your story. In the end, do you want a story that’s okay, or do you want one that’s great?

Take some time away from your manuscript after you’ve written your first draft. Mentally distance yourself from it. Don’t view it as your baby. It’s a story, and you’ve read a lot of those. When you feel ready, read through the manuscript as if you are a first-time reader. Be honest. By that, I don’t mean “put yourself down.” But be honest from an objective point of view. Point out parts of the story that you feel don’t flow as well, where the pacing feels slow, where you don’t really like a character, or where someone’s actions feel out of character.

3. Not having a systematic way of doing the developmental edit

It’s easy to get lost in the woods when you’re doing a developmental edit. After all, it encompasses so many different things. How do you even start to evaluate them? It helps to have a better understanding of structure (which is part of point 5). That way, you can have some indication of where to start. If you want to have some idea, this is the order I usually do developmental editing for fiction and nonfiction:

Once you go through all these points and adjust anything that needs adjusting, you’re already on the right track.


Would you like some help with your developmental editing? Then this developmental editing planner is the one for you! It contains a checklist followed by detailed information and worksheets to perfect your developmental editing process.

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4. Asking only family and friends for feedback

There’s nothing wrong with asking friends and family for feedback. Especially if you know they’re honest. However, it’s still very likely that they’ll like what you write or don’t want to hurt your feelings if they didn’t like it.

So, instead, hire either beta readers or a developmental editor to evaluate your manuscript. Beta readers are more cost-effective if you have a limited budget. However, do keep in mind that they’re not professionals; they’re readers with an eye for detail. This means many of the things they say are opinions, not something based on story theory.

I would advise hiring a developmental editor only after you’ve done most of the developmental edits yourself. That way, you know the manuscript is about as good as you can get it by yourself, and you’ll get the most value from your money.

If you can’t afford a developmental editor, a manuscript evaluation can also be a great option. It will give you less detailed feedback than a developmental edit, but it should still be enough to help you improve your manuscript and craft a great story.

5. Not having enough understanding of story structure and character arcs

If you’re going to do your own developmental editing, you need some understanding of story structure and character arcs. I would highly recommend you to read some books on the topic or even take some courses. Some favorites of mine are:


Can you avoid those developmental editing mistakes?

The above points are some common mistakes related to developmental editing that writers make. I hope they’ve given you some understanding of what to pay attention to when you’re doing your developmental editing.

Have you done all the developmental editing you can? Do you feel a bit lost as to what content edit you should do now? Then perhaps it’s time to hire a professional editor. I would love to work with you on a developmental edit or manuscript critique.

Want to know more about the costs involved and want some budget-friendly options? Then read this article on the subject.

Want to know whether a manuscript critique is right for you? Read here when to get a manuscript critique.


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