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.


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