How to Edit a Manuscript

You’ve edited a paragraph, a chapter, maybe a few chapters, but now your manuscript is Kariss editingready to go and your editor sent you back the first round of edits full of major content changes. Where do you begin?

Editing the manuscript as a whole can seem like a daunting task. Editing is a necessary evil to me. I prefer writing any day. But I’m always pleased with the end result after time spent editing.

The truth is that editing needs to be a matter of prayer before you feel tempted to knock your computer off the desk. (Kidding. Kind of.) It can feel frustrating and detailed and confining after a fluid writing process to finish your book.

Here’s the good news: If you crafted your story correctly, it should be frustrating. Just look at it as a challenge to overcome. Content edits often include tweaking details used in major story lines. You have to track each story line down and make sure your changes are consistent. If you tweak one detail, it may cause you to slightly amend a detail in another story line. I was thankful to see that my story lines were so interwoven that one change affected another but was terrified I would miss something. But don’t worry, that’s where your editor comes in to catch anything you missed. Just try to do your due diligence on the front end.

I just finished a round of edits for my second book, Shadowed. Here are some of my takeaways for a major content edit:

1) Start small.

Read through ALL of the suggestions from your editor. Weigh what she is asking. Then set the manuscript aside for a couple of days. Process the best way you can tackle the job. Pray that you will know the parts to keep and parts to cut, when to kill your darlings and when to fight.

2) Make a plan.

I found it difficult to keep scrolling through the manuscript to find all the places I needed to fix, especially when it came to juggling scenes and chapters for better time placement. Write down a knock list and cross out each item as your finish it. You will feel accomplished and know you are moving in the right direction. Even if the list is extensive, take it one step at a time. If something else comes to mind, write it down and come back to it. You can do this!

3) Take your first pass.

Start at the top and work through until THE END. Write down any questions you may have about research or editor comments. Make all the smaller changes you can make right away. For instance, I noticed I referred to an organization two different ways in my manuscript. For consistency’s sake, I used the “Find and Replace” feature in Word for an easy fix to ensure accuracy. Easy check mark on my list!

4) Attack the major problems with gusto.

It helped me to print my manuscript, make notes, and then get to work. My editor Kariss manuscriptssuggested some things that I struggled to pull off. However, when I looked at a clean, printed manuscript, I was able to take her suggestions with my preferences and style and make the changes something that fit the story better. I love to work with my hands, so it helped to have something to hold and mark up with a pen. It also got me time away from my computer screen, which gave me a great brain break.

5) Finish strong and pray.

Time for that final look. I try to make it my goal to tackle as many issues as possible so the next edit is easier. Send the editor any notes she may need to do her job well and help you. I learned on my last edit that sending an accompanying timeline saves LOADS of time for both you and the editor.

Finish by praying that God will use this for the process ahead and that the finished product will bring God glory. Take a deep breath, type that email, and click send. Your manuscript is changing, but so are you!

What lessons have you learned during editing? What process helps you?

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Three Ways to Focus on Editing for the Web

“Real writing begins with re-writing” (James A. Michener).

I began blogging in 2008, and I’ve visited many websites to determine the most effective way to communicate online. I developed a helpful web-editing checklist below from my research for a writing workshop using three photographic terms—the panoramic, macroscopic, and microscopic viewpoints.

Panoramic View. Begin the editing process by determining the overall, or broader view, of contents and evaluating your audience, purpose, context, and the design elements.

  • Read aloud from the reader’s perspective (not the writer’s).
  • Find main point and sub-points. Can you summarize your piece easily?
  • Examine benefits for reader (take-away value).
  • Use appropriate fonts (not fancy or distracting to your content).
  • Use subheading in boldface type to introduce more points.

Macroscopic View. Take a closer look at paragraphs, word usage, and tone.

  • Place main topics near beginning of each paragraph and sentence.
  • Limit each paragraph to one main idea.
  • Use shorter units of text with more breaks.
  • Use an introduction for a “teaser” paragraph (preview for content).
  • Avoid long texts that break content into several pages.
  • Provide a brief summary or table of contents hyperlinked to each section for text over 500 words. Use lists, hyperlinks, and extra white space for a long document to break up dense patterns of text.
  • Avoid slang, jargon, and inappropriate humor.
  • Use nondiscriminatory language (e.g., bias based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexuality, disability).
  • Use common words (appropriate for target audience).
  • Avoid vague words.
  • Use key words to describe the site in the first 50 words of text.
  • Build verbal bridges to connect text (transition).
  • Use action verbs rather than passive.
  • Incorporate single links into content (embedded into the text).
  • Make short, bulleted lists of links.
  • Use “Find Out More” links, when details are needed.

Microscopic View. Zoom in on the elements of grammar, mechanics, and punctuation.

Self-editing should distance you from your piece, so you can examine it without the emotional attachment. You can see your actual words, rather than just intentions. Consider these final ideas to help you edit for the web.

  • Create style sheet/guide with some common problems, to avoid repetitive research of the editing rules (e.g., grammar, mechanics).
  • Find someone to read and edit your work (e.g., critique group, another writer).

Remember: “You write to discover what you want to say. You rewrite to discover what you have said and then rewrite to make it clear to other people” (Donald Murray).

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you have any tips for editing for the web?

The Search-and-Find Feature

Over the years I’ve harped at authors never, ever to turn in a first draft. Some writers think the editor’s job is to spiff up their grammar, correct misspelled words, change passive voice to active, eliminate repeated words and phrases, or do laser surgery on their mixed metaphors.

Word travels in publishing circles about whether you’re a professional or you’ve made your living on the backs of good editors. You don’t want to be known as a hack writer.

Hopefully, the electronic tool known as search and find will make your self-editing chore more enjoyable.

  1. Passive voice (one of my pet peeves): Passive voice is created by using a form of be, such as am, is, are, was, were, being, be, or been and followed by the past participle of the main verb, or gerunds comprised of a present participle (ending in “ing”) that functions as a noun. Learn more in Hacker’s Rules for Writers. Search for these words and recast your sentences to make them more active. Examples:

Passive: He was jumping over the cliff into the river below to escape.

Active: He jumped over the cliff into the river below to escape.

  1. Qualifiers: These words clutter up your writing. Sometimes I think writers use them to boost their word counts. Examples: begin, start, started to, almost, decided to, planned to, a little bit, almost, etc. Examples:

With qualifier: Mary felt a little bit out of place among the nouveau riche.

Better: Mary felt out of place among the nouveau riche.

  1. Weasel Words: These words are easy to spot. You can drop them and no one will notice. My high school English teacher told me that if you could replace the word very with the word damn, you didn’t need it. Other examples: really, well, so, a lot of, anyway, just, oh, suddenly, immediately, kind of, extremely, etc. I’m sure you can come up with your favorites.

With weasel words: Suddenly, she stood up and said, “Oh well, let’s retire to the drawing room and just stay out of his way.”

Better: She stood and said, “Let’s retire to the drawing room and stay out of his way.”

  1. Adverbs: I don’t hate adverbs, but they “usually” are unnecessary, especially in dialogue tags. Your prose should communicate a character’s state of mind without using a tag line such as the example below. Use search and find to look for an ly followed by a space or a period.

With adverb: “I’ll kill him,” she said ferociously. (Really?)

Better: “I’ll kill him,” she said.

  1. Extraneous thats or thens: Use the global search-and-find feature for the word that. If you can understand the sentence without it, you don’t need it. You notice I didn’t write, then you don’t need it. Both of these words are over used.

Writing is rewriting, and rewriting involves self-editing. It’s your job to turn in the cleanest manuscript possible to your agent or editor. Use the search-and-find tool to speed up the process.

Can you think of other ways you can employ the search-and-find feature in Word to edit your work?

First Do No Harm

There’s a saying among medical practitioners, loosely based on the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm.

This tenet works as a fundamental principle for editing someone’s manuscript too. Before you pick up that red pen, remember: First do no harm.

A writing buddy shared how one editor repeatedly told her that she wrote absolute junk–and that she’d never be published. The result? My friend stopped writing. With that kind of editorial feedback, can you blame her?

When I edit  or critique someone else’s writing, I remember these key guidelines:

  1. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. My mom told me this all the time when I was a kid–and it’s still applicable today. Don’t jump right to the “this isn’t working for me” comments. You’re holding a pen, not a butcher knife. What do you like about the manuscript? Comment on that first.
  2. Just because you see dozens of things wrong with a manuscript doesn’t mean you have to point out every single one of them. If you’re in a critique group, more than likely someone else will also notice misspellings or passive verbs. Pick two things to talk about–maybe how the hook could be strengthened or how the writer head-hopped.
  3. Above all else, be trustworthy. Respect each writer’s work. Isn’t that what you want? Editing or critiquing isn’t altering someone else’s writing so that it’s an echo of your voice. Editing means helping someone else’s voice shine more clearly, unencumbered by run-on sentences or rabbit trails or an avalanche of adjectives and adverbs.

The next time you have a chance to critique or edit another writer’s work, ask yourself:

  • How would I feel if someone critiqued my work-in-progress (WIP) this way?
  • Is my feedback going to encourage or discourage this writer?
Before you pick up your red pen, remember to do no harm to your fellow writer.
So tell me, have you had any experiences with harmful feedback? How did you handle it? Any suggestions for giving worthwhile critique or edits to another writer?
 

Post Author: Beth K. Vogt

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an air force physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” She writes contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us.