It’s Not a Race: How do you edit your Manuscript?

Is there is anything more thrilling than typing the words, “The End”? Well, of course there is, but we don’t need to get into it. Still, as writers, we know typing those important words ranks pretty high. But, ironically, typing “The End” is only the beginning. Then come the endless rounds of editing. Since I am close to finishing STAY OF EXECUTION, I starting thinking about how I’d edited A GUILTY MIND and what I would do differently and what I would do the same.Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 9.48.46 AM

For me, there are three real types of edits. The first is the multi-draft kind where you, the writer, self-edit the work you’ve done. This stage is often the hardest. It may include finding redundancies, killing darlings, adding/deleting scenes, and generally eliminating anything that doesn’t enhance your story. When the first stage (I use that term loosely) is complete, it’s wise to engage a professional editor (could be the editor at your publishing house). The final edit is usually an “oops” type and is often done on the proof of your book either by you or your publisher.

The hardest type of edit is clearly the first and there are so many different styles and ways to do it. Because this has been on my mind, a thread started on the Books and Writers Group of LinkedIn caught my eye. Here are a few of the methods that many of those contributors and other writer-friends use:

  • Reading the work aloud: This is by far one of the most popular methods and one I use myself. However, I discovered a twist when one group member recommended recording yourself reading your book and playing it back later. Now you are not just a reader but wholly focused on listening.
  • Printing a hard copy and red-lining: I can’t imagine there are many writers who don’t already do some of this (I do lots of it). Some do it after every chapter and some do it when the entire manuscript is complete. I was surprised to learn though that some writers who use CreateSpace will print an early proof to use for this process. Not a bad idea!
  • Put it away for a bit: A few writers recommend putting your manuscript in a drawer or on a shelf for a few months to really distance yourself from it. Then, when you come back to it, your perspective is fresh and hopefully, more objective.
  • Beta Readers: Several writer friends use this method and it seems a good way to get honest feedback on your storyline and flow. I’ve used a book club for this in the past and do have a fellow writer reading my current draft. It helps me to have someone to discuss the story with long before it’s in its final form.
  • Editing Software: I’ve never used this (other than the obvious available in Word), but I’ve come across a few writers who like it quite a bit. There are several companies out there.
  • Create a physical timeline or storyboard: Writers who outline have usually already done this type of work in their story planning but if you’re like me, your outline is rough and the first draft is created from flow. After the first draft is finished, however, it’s critical to be sure the timeline/plotline is consistent and accurate. One writer I met told me she covers her office in stickies and another told me she uses her entire dining room to lay out her chapters in sequence. While I don’t do that exactly, creating the timeline when I edit is important.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 9.58.59 AMWhile none of this is groundbreaking, it is a good reminder that editing is a LOT of work. Yet, no matter how long it takes or how hard it is, it is a step that CANNOT be skipped. And as a guide, there is always the tried and true book, SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Brown and Dave King.

I can’t wait to get out my red pen!

Published by K.L. Murphy

Author of Her Sister's Death and The Detective Cancini Mysteries

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