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Saturday, 24 April 2010

Reading and editing your writing with an "editor's eye"

You’ve completed first draft of your novel, and now to polish it for submission to agents and publishers. While the writing can be easy and fun, editing is a different story (no pun intended).

Where do you begin on effectively editing your manuscript?

First, read the entire manuscript from start to finish, and take several quick notes on what needs changing. Read your work as if you were a reader, not a writer, and briefly mark the parts that don't work for your story.

Study your word count and cut a set percentage. Are there excessive uses of adjectives, adverbs, be-verbs (is, are), “waste words” (it, that, there), prepositions (of, for, from, through), and abstract nouns? If so, begin eliminating the aforementioned that are overused.

Go through your book chapter by chapter, and do a rewrite. Cut out deadwood, and add things which will develop in more detail as you rewrite. If you take one chapter at a time, the editing process doesn't seem like such a huge project. If you think of it as a burdensome task, then you won‘t get finished. Set reasonable goals and deadlines to accomplish them. Break your novel into small editing chunks, and you will be amazed a how much farther ahead you’ll move.

Look at your dialogue. Are “he said” or “she replied” tags used too many times? Try reading the sentences without them. If the dialogue sounds better without the tags, eliminate them.

Have a look for “info dumping,” and ask if it belongs there. If such information can be removed without affecting your story, best to scrap it into the editing trash can.

Grammar, spelling, and punctuation are critical, no matter what anyone says.

Show vs. tell. A little telling doesn’t hurt, but “showing” what’s happening gets readers more into the story, not to mention writing the “show” parts are more creative and fun.

Make sure the flow of your story, scene building, and if required for specific genres (such as non-fiction), the research are blended into your work without slowing the story.

Once you’ve worked the entire manuscript, start from the beginning and do at least three rewrites before considering sending publishers your sample chapters. Find a second (and even third) pair of eyes who are unbiased to read over your work. Having parents, colleagues, friends, offspring, siblings, fans, etc. are not good ideas, as a more impartial person will give an honest, unbiased critique on what needs to be edited.

Contrary to popular belief, don’t think an editor will fix your book. Editors will make suggestions, but if it’s apparent you don't have the skills to fix what's needed, they’ll stop returning your calls. Accept editors’ ideas with an open mind; you may be surprised that most will enhance your work rather than detract from it.

Finally, look at writings which please you the most. Do they really have something to say? Do they enhance a specific area of your book, or are they just a “filler?” These parts may be your best writing, but do they need to be there? You can always save specific parts for a later chapter with a few changes.

Editing a book is a rough, tedious, and long process, but efforts put into it makes the difference between a mediocre book and an excellent one. May you all have much success in your writing endeavors.


  1. Excellent article, Lori. Thank you. :)

  2. Good stuff, and motivating too. :)

    What differentiates reading with a writer's eye vs. with a reader's eye? (Perhaps I'm only asking this because I don't have much of a formal background in English.)

  3. Brilliant post. This is what makes this blog so beneficial to followers. Thank you.