The Many Ways I Edit My Manuscripts, part 2

In my last post, I shared how I make lists in preparation for editing. Now I’ll share my process of editing a manuscript. I think most of this process would apply whether or not you’re an author publisher like me. The number of editing rounds may vary with each book, but this is my general process.

editingAs I said before, I do some editing while I’m writing the first draft. Actually, since I edit sentences and paragraphs immediately after writing them and then again as I reread the previous session’s writing in preparation to continue, I do a fair bit of micro-editing during first draft stage.

My next round is a macro-edit done within my writing software (Scrivener). As I read through the entire manuscript, I’m looking for plot holes and continuity issues. I also make notes on anything I need to verify with research. At this point, I’m checking off some items on the editing lists I mentioned last time. And because I write the dialogue for a scene first, I’m also checking to see if I have enough actions and descriptions. (Though it’s almost certain my beta readers will point out I need more.)

Of course, to try to fool my eyes into thinking I’m reading these words for the first time, I need to take a break. Usually, at this stage, I send my file to my alpha reader. Yes, I know, the true alpha is me, so maybe I should say my alpha-beta reader. While I wait for her feedback, I try to busy myself with writing something else or read a book or two.

After I receive the alpha-beta feedback, I edit and revise accordingly. My next step is to print out the manuscript, double-spaced so there’s room to make notes and corrections. Once again, I read from beginning to end, using both red pencil and highlighters during this edit. I also consult my editing lists. Then I transfer this editing to my computer file.

Then it’s time to send the file to my beta readers. Again trying to fool my eyes, I also send the file to my Kindle and read it that way. And then with the beta feedback and any notes I’ve made during my digital read, I go through the manuscript making edits and revisions.

During these editing rounds, I keep up a dialogue on the changes with my alpha-beta reader who, in effect, acts as my editor. If you can afford to hire a professional editor—or two—do so. You may want to enlist a content editor as well as a copyeditor (they serve different purposes), but my budget does not allow for that. However, I’m very lucky to have accomplished writer friends to call upon for these services.

Now, I want to tell you about an editing method I’d seen recommended many times, but I tried for the first time with my latest manuscript. For my final round of editing, I read backwards. I started at the end and read each sentence one by one. I couldn’t believe the typos, missing punctuation, and just plain clumsy syntax I found—some of which, I’m sure, I introduced during my editing rounds.

For me, reading backwards gave me the “freshest eyes” of all. Reading that way wouldn’t serve to find continuity errors, of course, but as a copyedit, it works great. If you’ve never tried it, I recommend you do.

I hope you’re enjoying life!


The Many Ways I Edit My Manuscripts, part 1

“Yay! Now I get to edit.” That’s my first reaction when finishing a first draft. After several rounds of editing, though, I’m a little less enthusiastic. But I trudge on and, eventually, end up with a polished gem from the lump of rock I started with.

editormarksWell, since I edit as I write, maybe lump of rock is a bit harsh. I know some writing gurus advise not to edit as you go, but I naturally write lean, and I’m too much a perfectionist to write past a clunker sentence or flabby paragraph. Why not fix what I already know needs fixing? That’s not to say I agonize over things like comma placement during first draft. That comes later.

If you’re a lightning fast first-drafter who stops for nothing, that’s fantastic. Many of your editing methods may vary from mine—and that’s perfectly fine. We should each work the way that best suits us. But in case I do something you don’t but might want to try, I’ll blog about my editing process in the next couple of posts.

As I’m writing the first draft, I keep lists to help me in editing. The main ones are:

  1. Things to Check
  2. Style Sheet

Things to Check:

This list is where I keep track of the punctuation and grammar errors I’m prone to make in every first draft, such as overuse of certain words (and, but, so, it, etc.) as well as words I frequently misuse (it’s for its, anymore for any more, etc.)

And of course, this list is where I remind myself to check to see if I’ve properly used commas. Most comma rules are static, but I vary a few depending on the genre I’m writing.

In my latest manuscript, I couldn’t remember, and got tired of looking up, the Alt key code to type the accented “e” in fiancée, so I added that to my list. (If you’re wondering, it’s alt+130)

I also list the spellings I use for sounds (hmm, uh-huh, hunh, etc.) and slang or curse words to make sure they’re consistent throughout the manuscript.

Usually, this list has several sections. One might be a list of words to work into the manuscript. Since the male lead in my latest book is British (and I’m not), I made a list of terms and phrases he might use. And since the female lead is only twenty-three (a bit younger than I am J ) I listed slang she might use.

And since I usually write the dialogue for a scene first, I need reminders to check for setting details.

After an editing round or revision, I might have to recheck some of these things, though I try to be very careful not to introduce new errors while I’m editing.

Style Sheet:

This is where I keep track of writing and formatting styles particular to the current manuscript. There’s some overlap from the Things to Check list, such as sounds, slang, and curse word spellings.

Style choices are things such as whether I’ll write out the time of day—eight in the morning, not 8 a.m. Also, how I’ll format certain things such as inner monologue, asides, imagined dialogue, and remembered dialogue. If I break a “rule” I want to do it consistently.

This is the list for unusual/unfamiliar spellings of character or place names and also for jargon. For some genres this list could grow quite long.

Other lists common to most writers are ones for characters and settings. These are handy not only in writing the first draft … yes, sometimes by chapter six, I’ve forgotten what I named a minor character in chapter one. But, of course, editing usually means revising, adding scenes and even whole chapters, so I want to make sure I’ve got the details right. I could run searches of the manuscript for these, but often it’s quicker to consult one of my lists. When it’s time to edit, I print out these lists and keep them handy.

Next time, I’ll share the various ways I read a manuscript for editing, including the very helpful one I recently tried for the first time.


March of Writing Madness

Lately, my writing life resembles the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Not only was January a wasted writing month for me, but we’re well into March and I’ve started taking backward steps in the final work on my romantic comedy. I’m no longer satisfied with the title or cover idea, and I’m having a devil of a time writing a killer back cover blurb. It’s all gone insane.

I’m trying not to get superstitious and consider these setbacks a sign I should set this book aside. After all, I have another book ready for final prep. But it’s not my usual genre and will be published under a pseudonym. So I’d really hoped to get another women’s fiction book out there first, even if it’s a much lighter read than my first two.

The titles The Brevity of Roses and An Illusion of Trust came to me without much of a struggle. They’re taken from lines in the books. But this new book has a completely different voice. Chelsea, my main character isn’t given to deep thinking and poetic language. She wears flip-flops and hoodies and says, “Ohmygod” and “Seriously?” That’s not to say she’s without depth.

Chelsea’s had a bad first year after graduating college. She lost her self-confidence. Now she’s about to lose her independence. But she has a hobby—spying on her new upstairs neighbor Jeremy, a sexy but secretive Brit. Oops … sorry, slipped back into blurb crafting mode.


As usual, it’s my lack of marketing know-how that’s brought me to my knees. Titles and covers and blurbs, oh my. I’ve improved at being able to view my work as a product rather than art, but I still don’t know what words and images will help them sell. (You’d think watching six-and-a-half seasons of Mad Men would have had a positive effect.)

So, I find myself all discombobulated at a time I thought I’d be assured and ready to launch another book. I’ll just have to keep adding to my list of possible titles, hoping one will shoot off fireworks. As for the cover, well, I might have a viable new idea, but I can’t finish it without a title. And I’ll keep moving words in and out and around in the blurb. What else can I do?

I do hope March is working out fantastic for you!


Writing to Be Someone Else

Recently, I’ve read several interviews with Anne Tyler. She’s been called an “invisible literary superstar” because of her habit of living a very private life in Baltimore and giving few interviews in past years. But for now, she’s gone public, promoting her latest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread.

spool_tylerA Spool of Blue Thread is her twentieth published novel. I’m reading it now, and I’ve read all nineteen others, most more than once. Anne Tyler has been my silent mentor in my own writing. I study the seeming simplicity of her prose becoming both inspired and intimidated.

She writes about human relationships, usually revolving around whole families. I write about human relationships too (note the motto of this blog) because … well, nothing is more interesting to me.

I’d like to share a quote from the first interview I read this month:

I began writing with the idea that I wanted to know what it would be like to be somebody else, and that’s never changed.

I can’t tell you how much I relate to those words. I’m happy to be me. I’ve not had a life free of trouble and care, but then few of us do. My life experiences have made me who I am, and that’s mostly a good thing. But life experiences are also limited by circumstance. Imagination is not.

Abundant imagination is one thing I was blessed with. I suspect most fiction writers would say the same. From childhood, not only have we delighted in our own make-believe, but we’ve enhanced that with a constant stream of books filled with the make-believe of others.

Of course we don’t read only fiction. We also read non-fiction to learn about people and places and events. We stuff our heads with facts which, of course, fuel our imaginations—and our curiosity. We question, we observe, we wonder.

We write.

In my novels, I’ve written to know what it would be like to be a middle-aged widow hiding from life; a young man desperately seeking self-identity; and a street-tough young woman afraid to believe she’s worthy of love. More recently, I’ve been writing to find out what it’s like to be a young wife caught between her heart’s desire and her sense of obligation to her abusive, addicted husband; a middle-aged man caught in a plan of revenge set in motion two centuries earlier; and a quirky young woman who rediscovers self-confidence by pretending to be someone else.

Who do you write to be?


Can’t see the end from here

Nearly half the month of January has passed, but for me it’s mostly done so in a dull blur. On New Year’s Eve, I started getting sick, but we still had a houseful of visiting family and our biggest dinner of the year ahead of me, so taking to bed was not an option. I muddled through. Two of my sons were sick too. One was leaving on vacation the next day, the other flying home in a few days. Fun times in the Lewis household. Now, tons of medication and boxes of tissues later, it’s time for me to get back to work.

year_roadTraditionally, in the beginning of a new year, we assess the past year. So how well did I reach last year’s writing goals? Well, I declared 2014 to be a year of writing, not publishing, and so it was. Yet I didn’t end up exactly where I hoped I would.

This time last year, in the midst of working on my third women’s fiction novel and revising a paranormal, I started a writing experiment. I decided to write a romantic comedy—a novella, I thought. So I set aside the revision and alternated work on the novel and novella.

But then I got so invested in the romantic comedy, that I set aside the novel and replaced it with revising the paranormal. Luckily, my deadlines are my own making.

As usual, after getting a little feedback on the first draft of the romantic comedy, I realized it was far from done. In revision, it grew and grew to novel length. And after getting a little feedback on the paranormal, I realized it had a few glitches to work out. Work on my poor women’s fiction novel had completely stalled.

I’d hoped to have at least one novel ready to publish this month. I have none. If I’d focused on one of the three projects exclusively, most likely I’d be gearing up for a new release right now. But my jumping-bean brain didn’t cooperate.

Still, I do expect to see both the romantic comedy and the paranormal published in the next few months. I also expect to finish the first draft of the women’s fiction and take it through editing, feedback, and revision this year. Can I have it ready to publish by the end of 2015? I hope so, but who can say?

I’m looking forward, but I can’t see the end of the road I’m on for 2015. All I know is that it’s going to be an adventure. Here we go …


Writing at the speed of ???

I realize this is only the end of November, but I know from past years I won’t get much writing done in December, so I think I can predict this year’s work results. I certainly won’t have three ready-to-publish books as I’d hoped. I expect to end the year with one publish-ready manuscript; another stuck in revision, and one incomplete first draft.


Writing, editing, revising, and polishing a manuscript in one year is a first for me. If I’d worked only on the completed romantic comedy, I’m sure I could have cut that time by a couple of months. Yet, according to indie book marketing advice, even ten months turnaround time is not competitive. Sigh.

Now, as I work through a final polish on that romantic comedy, I find myself doubting. This is my first time to write a book that falls squarely in the romance category—maybe even crossing over into older New Adult romance. It’s also my first attempt at comedy. So I guess I’m entitled to a few doubts. The coming months will show whether those doubts were justified.

Another concern about this story is whether I should publish it under a different name. My first two books are serious women’s fiction—book club fiction, if I may call it that. My half-finished manuscript will be the same. By publishing this under the same author name, would I risk receiving bad reviews from readers expecting this next book to be the same genre as the first two?

Yes, of course, the cover, book description, and preview will make it obvious this book is a different genre, but unfortunately, not all readers pay close attention before they buy. Then again, is it worth creating a pseudonym for just one book? Though I had a blast writing this one and would love to write another or more, as yet, I don’t have an idea for a second romantic comedy.

Oh well, I have time to decide. When I’m done with this polish, I’ll have to write a book description (pure torture) and create the cover—which looks fantastic in my head.

I hope you’re feeling good about the first eleven months of this year and the last month will put the cherry on top. For those of you in the U.S.—Happy Thanksgiving!