I'm always on the lookout for fresh ways to look at my writing. Let's face it, editing can get monotonous. When you've read the same thing so many times, you just stop seeing the words. But you can't let yourself do that—you have to see the words or things won't change like they should.
Here's a handy dandy list of editing tactics to try:
1. The Quick Read
I've found this extremely helpful when searching for continuity errors, repetitiveness, and overall flow of my writing. When you read your own book in a day or two, the "big" problems will jump out. For example, I'll realize I'm glazing over one chapter—maybe it's not compelling enough...what is it missing? Later on, I'll be read an action scene and think, "Hmm, the pacing here is too quick. I need to draw out that tension."
The Quick Read is the closest you can get to a "reader experience," though you'll need to be the most critical reader out there. I make notes to myself as I read and use those on the next editing round.
2. Chapter By Chapter
Or scene by scene, or act by act, whatever. Sometimes I like to tackle my book one section at a time so I can focus on something smaller and make it complete. Chapter by chapter is my usual tactic, since I sometimes have issues keeping my chapters on course. I often have to move info around or separate into new chapters.
3. Themed Edits
I often have a specific goal with each of my edits. I mentioned my usual approach of Plot, Character, and Prose edits in a very lengthy post, so I won't go into that here. The basic idea is to take it in small bites.
4. Reading Aloud
I've read several of my books out loud, since it forces me to look at the words on the screen. That, and bad wording or clunky dialogue jump right out when you hear it. If you hesitate or feel a little stupid saying it, then maybe there's a better way to write it.
5. Paper Edits
I personally edit much better on paper. I glaze over looking at the screen too long, but give me a fatty stack of paper and all of the sudden every awkward line and description pops out. And entering those edits into the computer is effectively another edit, because I often see more or tweak as I enter.
I haven't done this one—yet. I plan to do it because it sounds so smart and effective. Basically, you compile of list of your personal ticks and search for them. You look at each one and then decide to remove it or not. I assume I'll be removing most of mine. These can be words, phrases, and punctuation marks. Like in my current editing project, I went crazy with the semicolon. Seriously, there are several on every page. It's hilarious (and a little embarrassing).
There are plenty of ways to edit, and I think using a variety of methods is, um, the best method. These are just a few approaches, but please feel free to add more in the comments. Yes, I want to steal—I mean borrow—your ideas for myself.
my spell check went crazy on the semi-colons for my latest WIP - it apparently wanted them everywhere.ReplyDelete
I also edit so much better on paper. Also it's fun, printing out your manuscript.
Great tips! I think if someone were only going to edit ONE way, I would suggest #4. (But then I would suggest they do #1-3 and #5 and #6 afterwards, lol.)ReplyDelete
These are great tips and I actually use all of them. The reading out loud kills me though. It takes so much time! Must talk faster...ReplyDelete
Here's another tip -- I've tried it, got it from Davin from the Literary Lab...ReplyDelete
Backwards editing, sounds crazy I know, but you start from the last chapter and work your way back to the beginning. I don't know why it works exactly, but it helped me cut out a lot of crap from the end, which forced me, when I got back to the beginning, see where I went wrong.
I've done almost all of these, and you're right - you need to mix it up a bit to get at the problems.ReplyDelete
What about a Theme Edit? I like you're Themed edits for plot, and character, but what about a pass to look for ways to bring out your theme (yes, that's what I'm struggling with right now). I'd love to see your take on that!
Last night alone, I removed over 20 uses of the word 'that' from my ms -- and I only revised 20 pages! I'm definitely at the find/replace stage.ReplyDelete
Ooo, PW, I love that backwards idea. I'll have to try that sometime.ReplyDelete
Susan, Theme is an interesting topic to me. Perhaps I'll have to blog about it:)
As I've just entered the "let it stew" phase on my current WiP, I'm bookmarking this for later reference.ReplyDelete
I like the backwards edit, too. Reading only in one direction is mind numbing. Another way to vary the order is to pick chapters at random.ReplyDelete
Great advice, Natalie!ReplyDelete
I've done all of these at one point or another! I used to be a paper edit girl, but when I see something I want to change I want it done then and there, so I'm glued to my laptop editor now! I'm as impatient as they come, which is funny since I choose writing as my dream!
xoxo -- Hilary
lol, I have done the Find/Replace one, but not how you explain it. There was a word that I just couldn't type correctly. I could spell it out loud, I could write it out, but every time I typed it, three of the letters were jumbled. Eventually I just came up with a substitute word and did a Find/Replace at the end.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the tips.
You totally left out my favorite.ReplyDelete
Fate Editing: Where you just scroll with your mouse, and when it stops you read whatever page it's on.
(What, you guys don't do this?)
Those are all great idea. I'm already dreading the editing I have to do on this novel. Mostly because I don't know enough about the world yet, and I'm figuring it out as I go. Which means that at the end of the book the world will be awesome! But right now, at the beginning, it's a tad boring. I'll have to smooth that out later.ReplyDelete
I'm already noticing that I start way, way too many sentences with "And" or "But." It works every once in a while. But with how much I'm doing it (see, there it is again!) it's going to drive my readers crazy.
Jamie, HA! Fate Editing. I'm so adding that to my repertoire.ReplyDelete
Debbie, I'm a contraction-at-beginning-of-sentence offender too. Don't worry, you'll get through it all. Don't think of editing until you get there. Yeah, I know—easier said than done.
Those are great. I love the idea of backwards editing too and think I'll try that!ReplyDelete
All of these look like great methods. I haven't done the find and replace one before but I'll have to look at that.ReplyDelete
Great blog. I had never heard of the Find/Replace method of editing. Thanks. I'm revising now. I'll try that:)ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
I've also never heard of the find/replace idea, although it's a great method. I know I'm going a little dash-crazy in my current MS, so that will have to go. I think using find/replace in conjunction with something like Wordle.net could be very effective in pulling out all your overused words.ReplyDelete
I've used all those different kinds of edits. One caveat with the find/replace: be sure to put a space after words that you are replacing. Once I ended up with words like CarOlliena when I replaced Oli with Ollie. It took me a while to fix all the places that Ollie ended up.ReplyDelete
I edit much better on paper as well. That, and I just like the feeling of having a loose leaf 200 page manuscript in my hand. Its a very good feeling.ReplyDelete
Thanks for another helpful editing post, Natalie.ReplyDelete
I must say, I've always been a first-draft sort of girl, but after reading about your editing methods, and the quest for Manuscript Perfection, I am anxious - nay, on the verge of doing a non-potty potty dance - to get to those revisions.
I'd better get back to it, then, since my first draft still needs something like another 30,000 words...
What a great post. I want to bookmark all these ways. I incorporate some but I need to do different ones.ReplyDelete
This is a great post. I like the find/replace trick works well for me and all of my "justs" and other offenses.ReplyDelete
Another one that helps both on screen and on paper is to change the font and/or margins of your whole ms before re-reading or printing it out. Your eye gets used to seeing the same words in the same spot on the page and it can keep you from noticing mistakes. When the words look different and are in a different place on the page it forces your brain to pay closer attention by tricking it into thinking it's seeing something new. It sounds simple, but it really does make a difference!
Great lists! I like editing in different styles as well - keeps it more interesting :)ReplyDelete
I used to say that the best way to edit is to have the computer read it to you, and then I had a friend offer to read aloud to me- WOW! I noticed so many problems and where she stumbled, etc. I think you have to do this. It was amazing. But where to find such friends?ReplyDelete
The only thing I didn't see here is a twist on the paper edit. Maggie Stiefvater said once that she orders a copy from a self-pub company when she thinks it's basically done. She said there's something about reading/holding it in bound book form that brings out different issues than a regular paper edit.ReplyDelete
You wouldn't want to do it until you were at the very very last round of revision, but it's a neat idea.
Thanks, Natalie! With roughly 25,000 words to go with my first draft, I will definitely keep these ways in mind when the time comes to...bum bum bummm...edit.ReplyDelete
These are great methods for editing! I am going to add them to my editing checklist.ReplyDelete
One thing I would recommend to you (and everyone else) that REALLY helped me edit is something Sol Stein called “Triage”. You need a little distance from your novel in order to use this method, so I try to do this first thing as I start to edit, after letting the book stew for a month or two. Since you are already in the middle of editing, I would recommend working on something else, or letting the book sit for a day or two and not think about it. Perhaps work on that shiny new book you are working on?
Once you are ready to begin sit down with your book, and without looking, sum up the conflict in one sentence. If it was easy for you to do, then that usually means that your conflict is clear throughout your work. If not, that could mean it’s a little murky.
Now comes my favorite part: evaluating your scenes!
Without looking at your manuscript, ask yourself: What is the most memorable scene in the book? If you can’t remember the scene, it’s not memorable! Then ask yourself what the least memorable scene is. It’s okay to browse through your book in order to find it (because chances are, if you can remember it without looking, it’s probably not the least memorable scene), just don’t start reading word for word.
Now compare the most and least memorable scene. What is the difference? What made the most memorable scene work so well? And now what could you do to the least memorable scene to make it more interesting, more compelling? I find many times that this comparison gives me ideas for revising the slow and boring scenes into something that I won’t skip over. For example, the last time I did this, I noticed my super-boring scenes were the ones I slacked off and starting telling, and not showing. Lesson learned there!
I have noticed each writer uses a different type of conflict their novels. I have a writer-friend who writes very emotionally charged scenes. There is very little in the way of shoot outs and car chases, but her books are still very dramatic. So memorable doesn’t have to mean crow-baring a hostage situation involving a gun and a desperate man on the edge into every scene. In the last book I wrote, the most memorable scene was a conversation between two characters, but it was the emotion and content of that conversation that made it so memorable.
If you can’t figure out a way to make the least memorable scene interesting, it might mean that you need to cut the scene, and put the important bits of that scene into another one. This solution is very painful for me, but every time I do, I notice how much smoother everything is.
That done, you now have a new least-memorable scene. Huzzah! I find it easier to evaluate the scenes in my books when I am comparing them to the best scene in it. Once you set that bar, it becomes easier to see that you either need to bring each scene up to that measure, or murder your darlings and cut it.
There are other bits to “Triage” that I find very helpful, but this comment is already way too long!
I hope you have a good time editing, and hopefully this will help make it a little easier!
Thanks for the tips. You must use a lot of ink and paper.ReplyDelete
Reading dialogue out loud is great. Having someone else read it to me (when I can corner them) is even better. I love your writing/revising posts!ReplyDelete
Well, I'm only on my first edit of my first book. What I'm doing write now:ReplyDelete
I have a set of little flash cards. I quick read ajot down the points of what happened in each chapter. I'm only 8 chapters in, but already I can see that one of my characters needs to be introduced earlier, and I can see that I have some inconsistencies in another that I need to fix.
Thanks for the list
I've always been partial to the start-at-a-random-place approach. If I get stuck on a scene, I flip back and edit some random chapter. It keeps me working, and it's different than my usual editing tactics, so my brain doesn't glaze over.ReplyDelete
My brain doesn't literally glaze, although that would be kewl.
I also edit better on paper. Something about reading on a screen jsut doesn't do it for me (hence the fact I will never be able to own a kindle- I need to turn pages :)ReplyDelete
These are great tips. I have used all of them in editing my WIP except reading the whole thing aloud or doing a quick read all the way through. I am still going through chapter by chapter, but when I am done with that, I will employ both of those tactics.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the tips.
The Tabby Catt's most recent post: Writers don't do that
PS - word verification is UNGLY. Too funny. :D
for my first WIP, my revision process involved a paper shredder and a blank document :)ReplyDelete
@C. Michael- Yep, sounds about right for a first novel.ReplyDelete
Reading out loud helped me greatly in a short story I wrote (and submitted to a contest) recently. Helped a LOT.
One thing that caught my eye on this post was your chapter by chapter edits. Can you go into more detail on how you decide to break up the chapters, and for what reasons? That's something I haven't been able to really wrap my head around yet, and I think it would be interesting to see that explored.
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