7 Tips for Editing Your Manuscript


I have a love-hate relationship with editing.

Being the type of person who is appalled and embarrassed to have others discover mistakes in my work, I use editing as a way to polish my work before I show it off to anyone.  I have one alpha reader who reads most of my work while it is in progress because she is the most familiar with my characters and can often judge if I have a scene or reaction makes sense, and of course she sees my work in its unedited glory.  She is also my best friend and a fellow writer, who isn’t afraid to say, “Uh, what were you thinking?”  No one else should see it that way.  To me, an unedited work is like being in your underwear.  You don’t necessarily want everyone to see you in that state.

I wrote a post after working on The Earl of Brass about editing, but I think my process has changed a bit after taking more grad school classes and starting the editing of The Winter Garden.  A lot of people will tell you not to edit until you have left the book alone for a few weeks or months.  I can’t do that.

My writing process is not one where I bang out thousands of words in an afternoon.  If I’m lucky, I’ll write 1500 words over the course of an entire day, and that is rare.  Because I work chapter by chapter, I tend to go back after I finish (usually the next day when I am refreshing my memory about what I wrote) and edit the chapter.  It’s mostly tinkering with wording to ensure nothing sounds awkward and that descriptions are adequate or make sense.  I try not to do any major editing until I have finished the entire book or I would never move forward.  It’s really easy to get caught in the editing cycle and never actually complete a book. The draft I will be talking about is not your first draft or even you second draft.  For me, this is probably my third or fourth round of editing because I tinker along the way, so let’s call it your WIP.

Here are some tips for editing your WIP:

  1. Write down editing ideas.  If as you’re writing you realize you have forgotten to add details about certain characters or you want to beef up a scene, write it down.  Keep a list of what you need to edit in each chapter and why.  I don’t know how many times I have found notes to myself from weeks ago that I don’t understand.  Writing down your larger edits helps to keep you moving forward with your writing.  You can always go back and change things later.
  2. Print out your draft and edit with a colored pen.  Track changes on Word is great, but if you are a little scattered brained like me, you will get distracted halfway through a sentence and possibly not finish it.  When working on paper, it is much easier to notice issues.  Plus, you have to type all of those edits afterwards, which will aid in catching any ADD moments.Also, not being on the computer will probably keep you on task.  No Facebook, no Twitter, no emails, just you and your manuscript.
  3. Pick a colored pen you can stand to look at. Red can be hard on the eyes.  I prefer purple, dark green, or a royal blue because they are dark, easy to read, and stand out against black ink. Lime green, orange, red, or pink stand out but can definitely kill your eyes after a couple hours.
  4. If you are having a hard time noticing your edits, highlight them or circle them.  Sometimes when I am typing them up, I miss added commas or word changes.  To keep from missing them, use a yellow or orange highlighter to make them stand out. You can also do this as you are typing them up, highlight them as a way to check them off.
  5. Use typing as a way to edit your edits.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get bogged down by all of the “rules” of writing, the noise from other writers who “know better.” No adverbs, no dialog tags, no blah blah blah.  As you are typing up your hand-written corrections, edit them.  Don’t blindly enter in what you wrote.  Synthesize your edits and see if they really make sense.  Depending on your mood at the time, they may not actually work.  Typing is the worst part of editing for me.  I’m often tempted to pay my boyfriend to type it up for me, but editing the edits happens way too often for me to put it in someone else’s hands.
  6. After your first major round of edits, send it to your beta readers.  I like to think of beta readers as my target audience, but at least the ones I use, tend to have a literary background.  Two of my beta readers for The Winter Garden are writers and the writes short fiction and is getting her master’s degree in literature.  The reason I suggest using people who know a thing or two about writing is that they will be able to tell you succinctly when things need to be altered or where characterization or description is lacking.  They know what to look for while reading your work.  Now, just because they are writers doesn’t mean you should send them your rough copy.  Edit your work first at least one or two rounds.  There will be less for them to tear apart and it will be a more enjoyable experience for them.  No one wants to read something that is an absolute mess and is riddled with plot holes.  While your beta readers have your book, it may be a good time to take a little hiatus and step back to gain some distance from your project before you final few rounds of editing.
  7. If you are sending your book to an editor, make sure you have edited it several times (after beta readers).  Often editors charge by the word or by the hour, so it would probably help cut down on your bill if you were able to eliminate extraneous words by yourself.  If they charge by the hour, it will take a lot less time to get through your manuscript if it was already in pretty good shape.  They may give it a final polish, but at least they won’t go through the work of shaping your lump of coal into a diamond.  As the writer, that is your job.

Hopefully this will help you in editing your manuscript.  As I continue to work on The Winter Garden, I will post more about the process and let everyone know how it is going.

9 thoughts on “7 Tips for Editing Your Manuscript

  1. As a relative newbie to the craft of writing I ‘Thank You’ for your insight into the process of editing, especially the “editing the edits” bit.
    Thumbs Up!

  2. As a relative newbie to the craft of writing I ‘Thank You’ for your insight into the process of editing, especially the “editing the edits” bit.
    Thumbs Up!

  3. I’m in the process of editing my first novel now, and this is almost exactly what I’m doing. I’m only now typing up the red-ink-of-death, and I’m almost done. I’ll do one more pass and then I’ll have my two alphas read. Once I’m through with that, then it’s off betas. 🙂

    1. Sounds like a plan! I have 2/3 of my beta reader’s feedback now. I’m probably going to retread the story in its entirety and do my last major edit. Then, I’ll do minor edits again. My betas were lucky. It was pretty polished by the time they got it. Your a brave woman for using red. It kills my eyes after a while.

      1. I’m hoping my MS will be somewhat polished by the time it goes out. I’m so biased.

        I didn’t think anything of it when I bought the red pens. It’s actually not too bad.

  4. Great tips! I use a multi-colour system of pens and highlighters eg. anything highlighted in green is where I need to go back to ‘show not tell’. If I don’t have a variety of colours and a system my eye just glosses over the edits after a while and I miss a lot of stuff.

    1. Wow, that’s a complex system. I usually write out my changes on paper because if I went back and looked at them hours later, I would have no idea what I meant.

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