Creative Writing Tip: Not all Editing is the Same. Save Flow Edits for Last.

Now THAT'S a flow!

Now THAT’S a flow!

As I promised yesterday in my post about my scumbag brain and how I don’t write down good ideas, today’s post is about two different types of editing: editing for content/cohesion, and editing for flow.

I want to talk first about how they’re different, and why editing for flow should be one of your last concerns, reserved for the final phases of producing reader-readiness.

Editing for Content and Cohesion

Editing for content and cohesion really go together. When you edit for content, you make sure your content is right. (WHAT??? Who could have seen that one coming?)

  • You don’t have plot holes
  • Your characters are developed and, as far as you can identify at the phase you’re at, all needed scenes are present and accounted for.
  • All the background info that you can imagine your readers will need is somewhere in the work.

Editing for content is largely editing for cohesion; all cohesion means is that your work holds together as a unit. All the parts are there. They are there in the right place.

Global editing work–when you consider moving a scene around, or part of it–is editing for cohesion. Figuring out that you need to answer a certain question in this scene, and need to add information in order to do that–that’s editing for cohesion.

Realizing a paragraph is distracting and unnecessary and weakens the link between what comes before and after–that’s editing for cohesion. Cut that sucker!

Generally, I edit for cohesion at two points: before sending my novel off to beta readers, and then afterward, based upon their comments and reactions. After all, no one’s work is as cohesive as it could be before feedback.


Editing for flow is different than editing for cohesion. I have to have the cohesion first.

I need all my scenes present, and in the right order. I need my plot, characters, and back story laid out on the page where I want them. THEN I edit for flow. What does that mean?

It means I don't want my story doing this.

It means I don’t want my story doing this.

It means I make everything read as smoothly as I can. I make sure sentences flow into the following sentences, paragraphs flow into the following paragraphs, and each chapter leads into the next in some way.

I work on transitions, which isn’t an easy thing to do. A creative, well-written transition is difficult to achieve, so many times we writers fall back on tried and true phrases that we overuse.

  • Meanwhile….
  • While….
  • As….
  • The next day….
  • Later on….
  • Then….
  • Later that week…
  • Afterwards….

When I have a narrator and he’s changing POV characters, I make sure the change is evident to the reader without being distracting or jarring. POV issues are largely flow issues, at least in my mind.

Think about it: when POV does something inconsistent, a reader notices, and that disrupts the flow of the text.

Editing for flow is tough. You need to make sure you don’t jolt your reader, that  you establish or strongly hint at connections between passages and events your reader must view as connected, and that you vary transitions. It’s a difficult job, but we writers have to do it.


Pacing and flow are related, for sure, but I distinguish between the two. For me, pacing issues are content problems; a pacing problem comes from too much fluff  or from missing downtime.

Basically, pacing issues indicate something is wrong with the extent or the arrangement of my content. I try to take care of those problems before I worry about flow.

Flow edits have to come last because they involve hooking each segment to what follows and what comes before. If you do that work too soon you’ll have to move stuff around and then establish a proper flow all over again.

Doing flow edits more times than you need to is good for experience, I guess, but not for your time management or frustration levels.

Generally, I take care of flow edits during and before proofreads. Flow edits are the minor changes I make to a pretty much completed draft that just help it “sound a little better.”

So, what are your thoughts about this? I imagine flow edits are a late-in-the-game stage for pretty much everyone. Is that the case for you?

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, you might also want to check out the other posts in the section “On Editing.”

Also, feel free to follow my blog by email, to get updates about new posts here. You can sign up at the top right of the page.

30 responses to “Creative Writing Tip: Not all Editing is the Same. Save Flow Edits for Last.

  1. Thanks again for the really good tips, I have to memorize them.

  2. I do have a chapter on editing in the book, but this specific info, I don’t believe, is included in quite this way. I don’t go into varying transitions particularly, though I do touch of variety as a component of good writing in the chapter on style. I’m excited you want to read the book! Hope it proves useful for you and a fun read!

  3. At the moment, I have hope for my first novel. I think if I can just straighten out the second and third chapters, that will get rid of a lot of “content” issues. I think the break I took was a really good thing, as I can now see almost exactly where I’ve gone wrong.

    As for flow, I think all my previous editing has helped a lot with that, plus having my sister run through the whole thing on paper, marking out bits that don’t quite sound right, and pointing out where I’ve used the same word twice, etc.

    • Yea! Good luck with the editing 🙂 Oh my gosh, yes, thanks so much for mentioning taking a break. sometimes, that’s what you need. I’ve had to step away from a draft for a while, and when I came back, I was fresh, prepared, and newly inspired. Creative in ways I would never have thought of if I had tried to keep barreling through.

      Distance is sometimes exactly what you need!

  4. Arrggg! Why are you giving me more editing work!!!!!!! 😛 Do all writers have a love/hate relationship w/ editing ’cause I do. I swear it hasn’t stopped and maybe cause I’m editing for different stuff. I got friends feedback and now I’m getting writers group feedback. This has got to be the last time!

    • oh, it’s definitely a love-hate relationship! I never feel that my work is good enough, no matter how much I edit, and editing takes so much mental energy as I try to force myself to think about the box to come up with great ideas…. it’s DEFINITELY love-hate. You’re not alone there 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Realm Play and commented:
    Victoria did a great job describing and explaining the different types of editing. Very useful for writers!

  6. I used the terms “big picture edits” and “let me see how this sounds” edits, so your terms are much better. During the flow edit, I read passages aloud to see how the book sounds. And yes, that comes later in the game. I agree that everything needs to be in place or else the flow is messed up. Once a beta reader provides global feedback, especially if major cuts or character changes are needed, I have to start the cohesion process all over again, and then read for flow.

    • Thanks for the reminder about reading aloud!!! I do that too, and it’s amazingly helpful to hear where things don’t work. There are few things as useful. Of course, you need to find a private spot, but beyond that, the best help there is outside of beta readers!

  7. I’m a ‘flow as I go’ writer – – I re-read paragraphs as I write, because flow is so important to me – – I guess my flow definition includes other editing activities, as my flow meter signals warnings if I use the same word too often in a few short paragraphs – – 😀

    • nice, that you can take care of that stuff as you go. I should do that to a greater extent, perhaps. I tend to let flow slide a bit, especially in a first draft that only I will see. Thanks for sharing your style and your process, Tamrah Jo!

      • And thank you for always being so kind in your replies – I read so many authors’ and how-to blogs and so often, what I do is in direct opposition – 😀
        Fortunately (or unfortunately, dependent upon your perspective) I’m stubborn!

  8. Good stuff, and a great topic. It’s funny, you have almost the same process for editing that I use. Although I should say me and editing are not good bed-fellows…
    I enjoyed your post, thanks for sharing! 🙂 Look forward to future posts as well.

    • Editing and I are definitely frenemies. It’s a severe love-hate thing. Some days when editing I get some great ideas about how to fix/improve a passage and things go great, but most of the time it’s plodding and painful.

  9. Pingback: Creative Writing Tip: Not all Editing is the Same. Save Flow Edits for Last. | Tales From The Fifth Tower

  10. One of my biggest problems is POV. I’ve been told by those who ready my work that I jump all over the place with POV. Could you write an article that goes into more detail on this subject and advice on how to maybe write scenes that involve secondary characters? I always seem to write everything from my MC POV and not develop other things in other places if you understand my meaning.

    • I actually talk about this as part of the content in my upcoming writer’s handbook that’s not in the blog…. Having POV from one character is fine, for sure. It does make developing other characters tricky. This is something to really think about, to maybe craft a blog post or two next week that doesn’t cover exactly what I have in the handbook. Thanks for the suggestion!

  11. Reblogged this on Darswords and commented:
    Thanks for the editing lessons!

  12. Urg… Editing. I’ve never thought about breaking it down into different kinds of groups, though!

  13. Reblogged this on Brainstorm.

  14. Pingback: Creative Writing Workshop: Breaking Down Content Edits | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  15. Pingback: What Ogres, Onions, and Parfaits Have in Common With A Good Novel | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  16. Pingback: 4 Reasons to Keep Going When Editing Gets Tough | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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