Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Weeding Your Manuscript: Editing When Your Head is Spinning

Is your manuscript being taken over by the weeds?

Do you ever get overwhelmed with the editing process?

"Up the conflict."

"Read your dialogue over, doesn't sound realistic."

"Too many words; tighten the prose and keep the pace up."

"Need to ground us in the setting here."

These are a few of many, many comments I received through the writing process. Sometimes, these comments weren't even agreement.

Even more amusing, since I am part of a face-to-face critique group and we pass copies I have seen comments of direct disagreement.

"Kill this part."

"No, leave it in, it works."

So where do we start with the editing process?

Here's some advice from Alley pal, Casey:

I usually always start my editing process with one read through. Fixing things as I go, but then I have a better idea of the large picture to fix.

Great advice and some I am now following. Thanks, Casey!

Erin Healy advises us to pick one area at a time. Its so easy to get overwhelmed. This is the very advice I am following right now.

I'm zeroing in on the overall plot.

I like to read the ugly areas aloud to my husband. When I hear them aloud it makes me laugh, and then its easier to hit the delete button.

Reading everything aloud is so helpful with dialogue and just about every part of your story. It might be the single thing that has improved my writing the most.

Make a "pretties" file as you go along. I don't remember where I first heard this tip, but putting something in a "pretties" file is less depressing than hitting the delete button. Let's face it, you probably won't use most of it...but you never know. Purple prose? Overdrawn description? Paragraphs of setting? Put it in your file for later.

What overwhelms you the least at this point? Maybe grammar and mechanics is a good first tackle for you if you feel frustrated by some of the larger points of plot. Once you have tackled a set of edits, you may feel more comfortable to move in deeper and deeper.

A writer friend compares it to cleaning your house. After the toddler tornadoes come through, it looks like a disaster. But you tackle one thing at a time and before you know it you are working with a stronger manuscript. Wise words.

Check out Sarah Forgrave's wonderful self-editing checklist. If you missed it the first time around, this is a wonderful set of posts that breaks it down for even the most overwhelmed new author.

Don't be afraid of the delete button. I killed around 10K words this week. It was painful, but I know ultimately it will lead to a stronger manuscript.

What about you? Where do you start your edits? Do you feel overwhelmed when you start editing or have you found a system that works well for you?

Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site.  


Joanne Sher said...

Personally, BECAUSE I'm such a grammar queen, I just GOTTA fix the grammar stuff as I go - cuz if I "wait" on it - I will NOT be able to focus. Am I the ONLY one?? Working, VERY slowly, through my WIP now. GREAT post!

Pepper said...

Great reminders, Julia.
Reading aloud works for me too. It's a good comic relief ;-)
And I love keeping a 'pretties' file. It gives me the feeling that all those wonderful words I had to delete are not wasted :-)

The read-through is a BIG deal for me. Because I have to write in small chunks of time, I miss so many times that I've repeated the same thing too much or changed a person's name. Besides giving me the overall big picture of the story, it's a great way to quickly delete overuses of plot ideas and dialogue. It also gives me a general idea of 'sagging' :-)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

WOW, 10K trimmed in one week - that's impressive!!!! I'll bet it hurt!

But you're right, it does feel good to see how much stronger the story becomes with the weak parts pruned out.

Cara Lynn James said...

I have a 'pretties file' and I use it a lot. I know when I need to cut, but I can't throw away 'beautiful' words forever. So they're saved and probably never used again. But they can be! It does make me feel better.

I like to edit, although without guidance from an editor I don't have much of a plan.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Very helpful post.
I love the idea of a "pretties" post. I have my "I'm deleting this but I'm not throwing it away" file.
Pretties file is easier.

Lisa Jordan said...

Putting away a chapter or scene and reviewing it another day gives me a fresh perspective, and I'm able to see errors more clearly.

I have a pretties file too, and I've dipped into it from time to time when I need a scene starter or inspiration.

Great post, Julia.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Julia. I have my "pretties" file too. :)

Joanne--I tend to make grammatical corrections in my fast draft too, because they catch my eye.

I'm working through my fast draft. My plan after I finish is to do a read through, begin changing out words I put an"*" next to (to remind me to find a better word), and I plan to begin working on passive voice and looking for plot holes. After that, I'm going look at some blogs I've found that give suggestions, including Sarah's wonderful posts. :)

Lindsay Harrel said...

Great suggestions, Julia! I'm facing the same daunting task right now. I like what you said about focusing on one thing at a time.

I followed advice I got from Jill Kemerer. She suggested making a revisions chart from feedback I've received and decided to implement: one column with the chapter, one with the problem/issue, and one with the solution you're going to implement. I filled that out and it has helped me stay organized so much! My plan right now is to go through and make those changes, then go through and focus on tightening/looking for deep POV issues, etc., then go through one more time and do line edits and be really picky.

I also have a file of large chunks of stuff I cut...didn't think to call it a pretties file, but I like it! :P

Susan Anne Mason said...

I'm still trying to find an editing style that works for me. I find I get distracted by the story and end up just reading it through, making minor changes as I go.

Does anyone take say one chapter at a time and do all the edits (setting, weasel words, etc.) for this one chapter and then wait to do the next another day? Just wondering if smaller chunks would work better.


Diane Ramirez said...

I like to edit as I go along—I know the experts tell you not to do this, but that's how I work. Then I just let the writing flow for awhile. I like to write by the seat of my pants! My creativity works better that way. At some point, I go back and reread (usually when I've hit a bump) what I've typed, and edit again if I see more mistakes.

On my Mac I use the speech/speaking mode. First I listen to the whole thing, then I'll listen to each paragraph at a time etc. and then fix those bugs that crawled in somehow during typing. After fixing the mistakes, I listen again to be sure I got it right.

If it's a piece for submission, I then lend it to my critique group for hashing over . . . I like the challenge of cutting words.

For larger works, I am contemplating paying an editor to go over the manuscript before I submit!

I thought the "pretties file" was a pretty idea!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Yes, edits overwhelm me! It used to be even worse before I began plotting because I'd have to reorganize so many chapters. Now, I start with an overall read through, changing the big things first, then working to the smaller things later. Good tips!

Ralene said...

Great post, Julia! I always start with a read through, fixing grammar stuff as I go, and making notes. Then I compare my notes, to crits, and make a plan from there!

Julia M. Reffner said...

OK, sorry I'm late to the party. We were working at a homeschool fair this afternoon.

BUT you guys did what you always do...start a fantastic discussion in the comments!! I LOVE IT!!!

Julia M. Reffner said...


That is my natural mode, but at the stage of life I'm in I need to write my first draft fast or I won't keep that momentum. I SO understand that way, Joanne.


Yes, I can't believe how many times I inserted (husband of X) or (neighbor) because I blanked out on their name. But someday we'll be missing the small chunks without total quiet :)


Yeah, it did sting a bit. But I think the story will be better for it.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Yes, I know what you mean. It definitely does ease the word killing to have that file, doesn't it?


Thanks so much! You were so much help with my "uglies"! Sometimes we do have to sugarcoat :)


That is comforting to know you have reused your "pretties". I haven't yet, but it gives me hope. :) Great advice on putting things away, something I often need to heed.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Marking things but not changing them is a great way to handle quick drafts! I think Sarah's post series will bless you.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thanks for sharing your good advice from Jill. I love it! What a fantastic idea and great for visual writers especially!


I guess everyone needs to find a system that works for them. Sometimes trial & error is the only way, though we can take advice from others. Section by section is a great way that works for a lot of people.


I love that "fix the bugs that crawled in somehow during typing." Boy, isn't that the way it feels sometimes! There are so many options out there for professional edits, I think it can be a great way to go.

Julia M. Reffner said...


I love how everyone has a slightly different way of doing things, but it all works.


I like your making a plan as you go. Each book is so different and maybe the edits will be different, too.