Self-Editing Class - - Approaching Manuscript Revision
I am not sure how other authors self-edit, but my manuscripts are in a continual state of revision and editing from the time I write page one.
As I write, I tend to edit the previous day’s writing before I even begin any new material. In this ongoing editing, I look for the odd adverb, the unnecessary explanation, typos, redundancy, missing words and the usual stuff a writer does without even realizing as he attempts to get the action and words of his characters on the page. I have found that this process also helps me dive right into writing the new material and also has the side benefit of keeping me from hitting a wall in the middle of the book. It’s like creative muscle memory, the act of reviewing and revising the previous session’s writing primes my writing pump for the new day’s writing.
But once I have a complete first draft, I enter into serious self-editing. And this is how I do it:
1. I always give myself some time away from the manuscript so I can look at it with “fresh” eyes. Be honest, if you have worked with the manuscript every day, you will most likely read over errors. It is the old “you see what you expect to see” theory. So, take a break. Use the time to clean house or even begin researching or plotting the next book - - then return to do a detailed revision of your first full draft.
2. Do your edit on paper. You have written on the computer (if not reverse what I am telling you) - - don’t do the first (or even the second) full edit on the computer. You will miss things, trust me on this, people. I like to print out hard copy (and I use backs of other hard copies to conserve paper and then I use a shredder service and recycle; they plant trees!) and take it to my kitchen table and edit there. Not only am I editing on paper, I am editing in a whole different room. Things look different in the kitchen.
3. My first full edit will be mostly subjective - - editing, deleting, revising scenes. Then I go back again on the same first full edit and do the grammar. But even when I do a second full edit (after beta and critical reader feedback), I will still edit with an eye to both subject matter and grammar. I never stop revising until I can go through a full read and my gut says - - “I’m done.” There is always something that can be made tighter and better.
4. Save deleted material. It’s just a good idea. I have actually used bits and pieces of material deleted early on in a manuscript later.
5. Don’t trust your computer’s spell check or grammar check. I always write with at least two dictionaries and a Thesaurus nearby. You are writing fiction; sentence fragments are allowed in dialogue and Word underlines every blessed one. Don’t let Word dictate your voice or your pacing. And no word processer grammar and spelling check can replace a good paper self-edit for errors.
6. After you do any major substance cutting, reread the whole book. Make sure your work makes sense. If you cut a scene early on and then had mentioned it later in the work, you will need to make sure you fix the later copy to reflect the deletion. And, if you need to put the deleted material back because of an important later plot point (you did save the deleted material, yes?), you can.