You’ve done it. You’ve completed your novel, and the manuscript is saved on your computer. It’s a great feeling to finally be done, but real work is just beginning. That’s right, now you have to take the time to edit and revise your manuscript. While the writing process can be overwhelming, the editing process can also feel that way.
Let’s discuss some strategies to help you limit your anxiety regarding editing and rewrites.
Give Yourself Time
Unless you have a hard deadline from a publisher where your manuscript is due in a week, give yourself plenty of time to edit and rewrite. The last thing you want to do is rush the process. Rushing will inevitably cause you to skim the material and possibly miss easily fixable grammar and spelling errors.
Editing is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t rush the process. Read each chapter. Add material where needed and cut things that don’t work or don’t enhance the story or its characters. I would suggest only working on a few chapters daily for a few hours. This will keep you focused and give you a clear set of goals for the day.
Speaking of goals…
Break It Down
Most novels have chapters, and those chapters can be divided into manageable sections for editing. Let’s say your book has 80 chapters, and you want to get the editing done over the next three weeks. That’s 21 days to work through 80 chapters. Doing the math, that comes out to about four chapters a day.
Four chapters are much easier to tackle than being overwhelmed by the thought of editing 80. So, each day, you are tasked with working on the edits and rewrites for just four chapters. When you’re done, stop. Give your mind a break and continue with the next four the following day.
This will keep your momentum and creativity fresh as you work through a specific batch of chapters.
Cut and Paste
Editing a complete manuscript can be a daunting and unnerving task. Thousands of words and hundreds of pages are being shifted around every time you type a new sentence or add a new chapter. Your eyes can constantly be focused on the work count and page count instead of the content you’re working on.
I suggest starting a new document and then copying and pasting the material to be edited into the new document. This will be the home of your edited manuscript, so save it with the title and date you started to edit this draft. Copy and paste the next batch of chapters into this document each day for revision. At the end, you’ll have a fully revised and edited draft.
This cuts out the distraction of the final page and word count, allowing you to focus on what matters: the content of your story.
Editing is a lengthy process. Changing how you approach editing can subvert the anxiety and panic that can creep into your mind as you work through your manuscript. By working on a little at a time in a separate space, you’ll be amazed at how your productivity and creativity thrive.
Editing is a necessary and inevitable part of the writing process. No matter what you’re writing – from a blog post to a novel – taking the time to correct, add, delete, or change things helps make your writing stronger and helps you deliver a polished product.
When you edit, you likely know the key areas you want to focus on to improve the manuscript. Still, it’s best to read the entire draft and make changes to each chapter along the way.
Let’s talk about it.
There’s Always Something
Even if you love how a chapter is written, there’s always room for small changes that can result in a stronger finished product. It can be as simple as rewording a sentence for clarity or as involved as delivering greater detail to a character’s appearance. You may also find grammar or spelling errors you missed in previous drafts that can now be fixed.
Every little bit helps.
Pacing, Pacing, Pacing
Taking the time to re-visit your entire story can help you see where the story lags, where a reader might lose interest, or where even you, as the writer, need clarification. Checking the story for pacing and ease of reading can ensure you don’t lose a reader at any point during the story.
What Really Matters
By going through each chapter, you can also ensure that each chapter has a reason to be in the book. A reason? Yes, a reason. Each chapter should provide the reader with information about a character or plot that helps to move the story forward. Whether it’s the main story, sub-plots, or backstory, all of it needs to assist in propelling the narrative toward its conclusion.
Beginnings and Endings
How does the story begin? Does it grab you? Does it make you want to turn to the next page and keep reading? Go back through your opening chapters to ensure they help transport the reader into the story’s world and keep them there. You can offer up set-ups and questions in these early chapters that will be paid off and answered later.
With the final chapters, have you created a satisfying conclusion for your reader that ties up any loose story threads and gives them a complete story? Is there anything presented throughout the story that hasn’t been resolved? Reading the entire manuscript ensures all story points are concluded and not left flapping in the wind for readers to ponder what happened.
Editing is a lengthy task and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. By giving your story the time and editing it deserves, you can help make it a more robust narrative with better pacing, a stronger opening, and a grand finale.
It’s also great to snag those pesky grammar and spelling errors!
Last time, we discussed the best way to use self-awareness during the drafting process. Today, we’ll explore the best ways for self-aware writers to edit their work to make it the strongest it can be.
The Self-Aware Editor
This is one area of the writing process where you want your powers of self-awareness at full power. Once you’ve completed a draft of your manuscript that you feel is the best version, you’ll want to give yourself a little break – maybe a week – and return to it with fresh eyes.
This distancing will help you focus more on the technical task before you: Editing the manuscript.
Editing is a multi-layered activity, so taking your time is important. Don’t skim through the manuscript. You’ll want to read each sentence, paragraph, and chapter with an eye for spelling and grammar errors, continuity issues, plot holes, and parts of storylines you cut that you missed.
One good way to stay focused is to read the manuscript aloud. This will help you stay in the story and also help you detect any issues with the flow of the writing. If it’s hard for you to read a sentence out loud or it doesn’t make sense, then it would be difficult for a reader to comprehend. These are things you’ll want to change.
When you do find yourself losing focus, take a break. Attempting to edit a novel in one afternoon is definitely not recommended. You want to ensure you are awake, focused, and uninterrupted.
Consider carving out time and limiting how many pages you edit per session. If you have a 500-page manuscript, only edit 50 pages daily or less. The key is to give your mind the energy and focus it needs to weed out any issues that can detract from the reader’s experience.
Self-Aware, But Too Busy?
The ability to be self-aware enough to know you won’t be able to give the manuscript the attention it needs at this stage is also the sign of a mature writer. You understand that while editing needs to be done, you can’t give it the time it needs.
In this case, you can outsource it to an editing company. These resources offer various services, from basic spelling and grammar editing to more in-depth manuscript edits. But please be aware: these can cost a lot of money, so shop around.
But, if you can, find the time to do it yourself, even if it’s a few pages a day. After all, only you truly know and understand your story, and you’re the best person to make the necessary edits.
You did it. The edits are done. You’re tired, and your brain feels like mush, but you have cranked out a solid draft of your story that you are proud of. The time has come to let another set of eyes read your work. To give your baby to another who can provide you with feedback on what you’ve written.
Rewriting can seem like a daunting task, one often more of a challenge than the initial first draft of your manuscript. Now that your ideas are on the page, you can begin crafting and fine-tuning them into a stronger narrative. Making these changes in a work this is tens- or hundreds of thousands of words can also be overwhelming.
That’s why I recommend what I call Scratch Pad Drafting.
This Old Date
I highly recommend that you keep multiple dated drafts of all your manuscripts. From the first to the last, having a historical record of your story’s evolution is crucial. This is also important if something happens and you must go back in time to retrieve something you omitted from subsequent drafts.
Free Your Mind
Cutting and adding paragraphs or chapters in a seemingly completed manuscript can be tricky, especially if you’re writing on the fly. There will be times – many of them – when you’ll be reading through and find that a section doesn’t work.
What to do?
Have another document open that you can use to workshop fresh ideas. This blank canvas allows you to try new things, work out ideas, and punch up dialogue without fear of reformatting or other issues that can crop up when working on the manuscript. Now you have free reign to play around and work things out until you are satisfied with the new version.
Then, copy and paste the new material and add it to the manuscript.
Punching Things Up
The Scratch Pad can also be helpful when working out a character or location description. You can work to create the most descriptive sentence using the least number of words. Or, you can embellish and weave an intricate tapestry of sights, smells, sounds, and more to describe a person, place, or thing.
This is the best place to try those things out. You’re not affecting the manuscript while you work, and once you have the best version available, you can add it to the draft you’re working on.
This is also good as a place to punch up dialogue. You can work out important exchanges, jokes, and other moments to make them more realistic and truer to your characters. Again, the Scratch Pad is the place to play around and find the best version to serve your story and enhance the reader’s experience.
There’s always room to fine-tune and refine your work as you craft your next draft. Using a separate document to work on new sequences, descriptions, and dialogue gives you an open space to play and create without the burden of affecting the manuscript before the time comes to do so.
Have you ever watched or movie or read a book where at some point, you think: Is this EVER going to end??? Or a movie or novel just flies by and you think: Wait, that’s it?I want more!
Pacing in a story matters; it keeps you engaged as a writer and can help keep your reader engaged as well. How you pace your story is related to the type of story you want to tell and how you want to tell it.
So, let’s talk about it!
Taking Your Time
If you are world-building, writing historical fiction, or creating a nuanced view of your story’s setting, you will want to take your time to set things in motion. Your task is to draw the reader in, give them insight into the world the characters and the story inhabits, and deliver detailed descriptions that help them fully understand where the story and setting take place.
World-building gives you lots of ways to describe and present expository information, but it should be delivered in a way that keeps the reader engaged and interested. Much like historical fiction, you want to ground us in the world without getting too bogged down in minute details that don’t have any real bearing on the story being told.
Some novels that take their time and do it well are the Game of Thrones series, The Lord of the Rings series, and many of Stephen King’s works like It and The Stand. These works provide detailed descriptions of their worlds and still keep the reader focused and curious about where the story is headed.
Getting Right to It
Jumping right into the action is another pacing method. You start in the middle of an action sequence or some other adrenaline-pumping event that still gives us information about the setting and characters. Still, we get this information in bursts and not long paragraphs.
If you’re writing a thriller, an action-adventure, or an exciting sci-fi epic, grabbing the reader with a flashy opening sequence will help hook them fast and keep them turning the page. Just make sure that you still take the time to deliver substantive information that relates to the rest of the story.
A high-octane story with a ticking clock and high stakes would definitely benefit from a fast-paced style. You can always give the audience time to catch their breath, which leads us to the next section.
Charging Ahead, Then Pulling Back
This is the most commonly used in mainstream films and novels, and it’s a healthy combination of the two. You hook the reader with a fast-paced open, then pull back and give us some detailed exposition and plot information, character backstory, and description, then ramp things up again.
There’s an ebb and flow to the storytelling, allowing the reader moments to take a quick breather before things speed up again.
What’s Best for Your Story?
If you are working in a particular genre, I recommend reading books in that genre to see what the pacing is like. Do they hold your interest? Were there any points while reading that your mind wandered, or were you locked in and focused on the story the whole time?
If a novel has lengthy descriptions that interest you, how does the author structure those paragraphs to keep you engaged?
If the novel has a faster pace, how does the writer deliver needed information with fewer words while still connecting with the reader?
During the drafting phase, experiment with pacing. Choose a scene or sequence from your story and write it using different pacing styles. Does one fit what you want to do better than the other?
Editing and Pacing
While editing for continuity, spelling, and grammar are essential, reading for pacing is also important. If there are sections of you story where you lose interest, you have the power to fix those areas to avoid the same situation with a reader.
I recommend a Pacing Edit. After you’ve gone through and fixed basic issues, removed sections, added new material, and are happy with what you have, take the time to read through the manuscript and mark – don’t do any rewriting at this point – any areas where you lose interest or aren’t engaged with the story.
Once you have those areas marked, go back through and figure out why. Are the sentences too long? Is the paragraph lacking information needed to move the story forward? Do you need that section? If you cut it, would it impact the story?
Once you have resolved these issues, read through again and see if the pacing has improved and keeps you focused.
You know your story best and what pacing will help convey your story, characters, settings, and dialogue most effectively. Doing some reading research and experimenting with pacing can help maximize reader interest and engagement in your own writing.
Welcome back. Now your manuscript is looking good. You’re happy with what you have; you’ve worked out all the problems, did an exhaustive grammar and spelling check, and made sure that continuity is solid throughout the story.
Now, it’s time to let someone else read your work. I know, I know. This can cause a lot of anxiety for many writers. How will my work be perceived by outside eyes? Can I trust their opinions? Can I trust their judgment? Who do I ask?
Let’s talk about it.
7a. Finding the Right Feedback Partner
I believe a feedback partner is an essential part of the writing process. If you’re in a writing class, it can be easier to find someone willing to read your work in exchange for reading theirs. But if you’re flying solo, it’s time to look at your circle of friends and see if any of them might be willing to read your work.
I highly recommend not using family members for this process. With family, it can go one of two ways: heaps of praise that don’t help you strengthen the work; or criticism that leads to a rift in the relationship. Best to avoid both scenarios and let them read the work once it’s 100% complete.
Do you have a friend who has taken an interest in your writing? Is there someone you know who has asked about what you’re working on? Maybe you know someone who has read something you’ve written in the past, and their feedback helped improve the work? This is definitely a person to ask.
If they say yes, pay them for their time. Trust me, it’s worth it. Now, they have a reason to sit down and read the manuscript: money is coming! How much? It depends on your budget, but start low and then if you like their feedback, pay them more the next time they read it.
7b. Tell Them Exactly What You’re Looking For
Once you find your feedback partner and offer them payment, tell them what you want them to do. Be specific. “Here, read this” won’t be helpful to you, and it won’t help them focus on what you are looking for.
You can be general – “Does the story work from start to finish?” or “Did the story hook you and keep you reading?” – or, you can be specific – “When you’re reading, can you see if my main character’s arc is strong enough?” or “Can you tell me if there are any moments that don’t work, and explain why you think they don’t?” By giving your feedback partner goals, they now have things to look for and can provide direct answers to items you may have questions about.
Once you’ve set the parameters, give them a reasonable deadline (2 to 4 weeks), then leave them alone. This can be tough. You want to know where they are, what they’re thinking, and what they think, but butting in can ruin their reading flow and also break their concentration if they are reading when you contact them. If they contact you and give you a general comment (I really like the opening chapters), don’t interrogate them. A brief response is fine, but that’s it.
Your goal once they have the manuscript is to keep them reading.
7c. They’re Done and Ready to Give Feedback. Now What?
I FaceTime with my feedback partner, but you can do a Zoom call, Skype, or a regular phone call. I prefer this to receiving pages of notes from them (unless you specifically ask for that). Schedule 30 minutes for a meeting, and then let them talk first. They will likely give their overall impressions of the work and deliver positive feedback at the outset.
All good things.
Now, you can dig deeper. Have the initial questions you wanted them to answer ready, and have them delve into those. I like the phone/video chat discussions because you can discuss any issues or problems they had with the story. Staring it pages of notes is impersonal and one-sided. Take the time to have the dialogue.
This is also the time to take off your creative hat and put on your editor hat. You need to listen to what they have to say, answer their questions, and not get upset or offended if they didn’t like some aspect of the story or didn’t understand something. This is your opportunity to ask them for specifics about why they didn’t like something, why they feel they didn’t understand something, or why it didn’t work for them.
Listen. Clarify. Move on.
If you agree with their view on the specific item, change it. If you don’t, keep it the way it is. But I’ve learned that if you allow your feedback partner to be honest, so they don’t just tell you what you want to hear, they are pretty spot-on with finding issues that need fixing, clarity, or plot holes.
And that only helps strengthen your story even more.
Answer all their questions. If they wonder about something, or a character, or a moment that isn’t clear, write it down to look at later.
Once the session is over, pay them immediately if you are using PayPal, Venmo, or another payment app, process what you’ve heard, then get back to your manuscript the next day.
7d. Putting the Feedback to Good Use
If you liked their feedback, ask them if they want to be your feedback partner. If they yes, that’s great. If not, you have their feedback and can use that to make the next draft stronger. Take the time to go through their comments and see where they can be applied to make the story, characters, other aspects better.
I suggest giving all their feedback strong consideration. Sometimes there’s something in the story we’re holding onto that we really think works, but it falls flat to a reader or takes them out of the story. Be mindful of these comments. If your feedback partner makes it a point to say that something in the story took them out of the story, definitely consider cutting it. It could save your story in the long run.
7e. Back for Round Two, Three, Four…
Once you have made the changes – and probably made more on your own as you went through – send it back to your feedback partner with new questions for them to answer. Repeat the process as many times as you, your feedback partner, and your budget allows.
BLOGGER’S NOTE: There are editing/feedback services available online that you are free to use if you don’t want to ask a friend. As a self-publishing author with a tight budget, these services can often get a bit pricey, so doing a little DIY for your first few books can be a less expensive way to get the job done. But, if you want to use these services, I encourage you to do so, just do some research to find one that fits your budget and will do a professional job.
8. The Final Edit/Polish
At some point, your manuscript will be done…or done enough. It’s tempting to always want to tinker with a line of dialogue, a description, or other minutiae, but you have to tell yourself that it’s ready to publish at some point.
The way I know is when I stop thinking/obsessing over the story. My mind moves on to other projects, and this manuscript is no longer at the forefront. That’s when I’m pretty sure I’ve done all I can to make this story the best it can be at this time.
It’s time to let go and let others enjoy what you’ve created.
I hope you found these posts helpful. If you are a writer who has any advice to add, please leave a comment.
You can read about my self-publishing experience with The Field by clicking here.