Of course resistance can arise at any stage, but many writers stall out in the transition from drafting to revising. Revising is so different from drafting, it’s not surprising if you find yourself postponing or looking for direction in unusual places, say your sock drawer or the back of your fridge.
In this guest post Mary Carroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here and a dozen other books, writing teacher, editor and book doctor (more about Mary), gives you the direction you need to stop procrastinating or distracting yourself and start editing with confidence.
Simple Tricks for Editing By Mary Carroll Moore
Finally, you’re ready for revision. Revision is essential; we know that professionals spend most of their book journey on this final stage. But if it’s our first book, how do we figure out what needs attention? It reads OK, our writers’ group loves it. But we still sense the book isn’t ready to go out to agent or editor.
“I’m having a hell of a time editing,” Annette, a reader from New York, wrote me this week. “I know it needs container (setting) details and sensory details but I seem to get bogged down.
“I guess I’m not sure: how much is too much, how to add, and how to work the process of editing. Paper? Computer? Just fill in holes, lop out excess? Which first? How do you know what’s chaff and what’s seed?”
How the Pros Edit: A Checklist for Sanity
I trained as an editor for eighteen years. Both as a freelancer for various publishers and a salaried manuscript editor for a small press in the Midwest, I worked with experienced pros who were steady, careful, and kind enough to instruct me.
I learned there are indeed clear steps to take when polishing a manuscript. It’s not a blind ride. Each editor has their own method, but many overlapped.
From my eighteen years, a checklist evolved. I’ll share some of the basic guidelines with you. They’ve served me well in my own editing.
- Find a Workable Editing Method
- Get Software that Assists You
- Pacing Checklist
- Continuity Check
- If It Still Doesn’t Sing, Checklists for Content
Step One: Find a Workable Editing Method
Many editors vow that it’s impossible to catch all mistakes via a vibrating computer screen. My boss always printed out a “hard copy” and went through it with editing pen.
I adopted that method. I know my limits onscreen; I miss repeated words, typos (despite spell check), and clunky sentences. So I always print a hard copy after content and structure are in place.
Before that, I’m just wasting paper.
Content is what happens – is there enough? Are the stakes high? Structure is the flow – have I arranged events or information in a strong flow? Basic architectural questions that need to be solved before revision editing.
Step Two: Get Software That Assists You
It lets me create my manuscript in a “binder” which is easy to arrange, rearrange, and edit from. I build “islands,” or scenes, first. Then in first draft assembly, I create chapters. I edit them individually first, then as a whole.
For instance, part of my revision process is to create chapter transitions that keep readers from setting down the book after a chapter ends. I want a page-turner. Scrivener and Word both allow split screen viewing. I open consecutive chapters, study the end of one and the beginning of the next, to check chapter transitions.
When I’ve done all I can, I import the entire manuscript back into a Word doc and send it to myself via email. I open it on Pages on my iPad or on an e-reader. The goal is to get a document that looks like it will in printed book form.
I read it carefully, making more notes. This step-by-step method is invaluable. I always find more to correct. Back to Scrivener for the final tweaks.