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.


Taking an Ax to My Old Flame—

While my subconscious works out a problem in my romantic comedy, I’ve been editing the first novel I completed—fourteen years ago. As I read, it became apparent I was a little too fond of the em dash. I think I used at least one on every page. So I decided to run a search for them.

emheartIn a manuscript of 89,000 words, I’d used 543 em dashes! Seriously. Five hundred forty-three. I wouldn’t have thought that possible.

Don’t get me wrong. The em dash is legitimate punctuation. I use it to indicate an interruption, add emphasis, or a sudden change of thought. For instance:

“If you’re asking me to—”

The man—swear to God—had giggled.

She would trust him again—in time.

The party lasted all night—where were you, by the way?

I could use parentheses, colons, and commas in place of some of the em dashes, but my fiction is usually informal, so the dashes fit.

In my defense, I’ve learned a thing or two about writing in fourteen years. I no longer have such a blatant crush on that bit of punctuation. I kept all the em dashes used to indicate interrupted dialogue, but many of the others were not used to good effect and bit the dust. The total now stands at a more reasonable 384, but I still have rounds of editing to do. And I haven’t checked the ellipsis count, yet.

Do you have a punctuation weakness?



Impatience and writing don’t mix!

I’ve been more aware of my impatience writing this last novel. Losing three months due to illness, made me feel rushed to get back on schedule. It didn’t matter that the schedule was self-imposed. I’d hoped to streamline my concept-to-publishing timeline this time. But haste makes waste—or typos, at least.

powEventually, after much writing, editing, and reading, reading, reading, I pronounced An Illusion of Trust as ready, done, finished. I sent out ARCs. Christa Polkinhorn and I exchanged ARCs. When she pointed out a few typos in Illusion, I decided to reread it one more time.

POW! WHAP! Ewwww …

I found a few more typos and many sentences that needed tweaking. Cassie Hart, another ARC reader, pointed me to the typos she’d noticed—a couple of which neither I nor Christa had caught. My concern wasn’t that the typos existed because I suspect my remaining ARC readers will catch another lurker or two, but what bothered me was where those typos occurred.

Not a single one of the edits we found were in a sentence as originally written. I edit as I write, so much of my first draft remains unchanged by subsequent edits. I created every one of those typos during later editing. In fact, I made most of them in the final-polish stage.

So as I correct these typos and tweak these sentences, I’m conscious to slow down, read each word and punctuation mark, so I don’t introduce another problem. For my next novel, when I think it’s at ARC stage, I’ll wait a week and then read it through ONE MORE TIME. Even then, with familiarity clouding the editing brain, I won’t catch every Pow and Whap, but I might avoid the Ewwww.

I hope you do too.


What if it’s the key to everything?

Like all writers, I jot down my brilliant thoughts when and wherever they come to me. Okay … I jot down my not-so-brilliant thoughts too. I’ve written these thoughts, of whatever degree, on scraps of paper, napkins, page margins, magazine subscriptions cards, even a mirror. I’ve yet to buy one of those nifty waterproof notepads for the shower, but I do keep a notepad in the drawer of my bedside table.


Unless this is your first visit to this blog, you probably know I’m in the final stages of editing my next novel, An Illusion of Trust. The task has become so intense that I also edit—symbolically or literally—in my dreams almost every night. It’s not restful, but I think my nocturnal editing has produced a good idea or two subconsciously. It’s also produced one bit of maddening frustration.

Remember that notepad beside my bed? Well, I woke from one of those editing dreams the other night and got up to use the bathroom. Fully awake, I thought about what I’d been dreaming and when I got back to my bed, in the dark, I pulled out that note pad and wrote a note to myself.

See the photo in this post? You can read “description” in the second line, right? Any clue what the first line says? Well, since I’m a little bit familiar with my chicken scratching, I think the second word is “thing”. But I’ve looked at the first word for three days now and I still can’t figure it out. And even if I read the note it as “blah-blah thing description”, I can’t imagine what I meant. Then again, maybe the two lines are separate notes. Aaarrgh!

So, I’m haunted. Obviously, I thought this was important at the time I wrote it. What if it’s the key to a brilliant edit? What if that edit would pull every element in the book together? What if the future of my writing depends on this notation? I’m not sure I can move past this.

How will I prevent the recurrence of such a horror? Any future middle of the night notations will be made in the notes app on my iPhone!

BTW: If you decipher that first word, let me know and I’ll send you a signed copy of Illusion after it’s published.