4 things not to do when editing your manuscript

59962_9189-axe-effectI can’t overstate how important it is to edit your book before sending it off into the ether.

Careful proofreading and double-checking your story’s consistency are key. Editing is the make-or-break difference between the writer who gets an acceptance and the one who gets (yet another) form rejection.

When it’s finally time to tackle the editing and rewriting phase, there are a few major basics you should keep in mind. Here are four things you should never do while you’re polishing your first draft:


1. Obsess over grammar on the first read-through.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but I’m serious.

Sure, you can use common sense and fix things that jump right out at you, but your first read-through after you’ve finished a draft is to catch flow, storyline, and overall style ideas.

Errant commas and misplaced quotations will wait around until later when you can get to them.

What’s the point in correcting nitpicky minutiae in an entire paragraph (or chapter, for that matter) that you may later delete completely when you realize it makes no sense?

Tackle the story arc and character motives first. English class rules come afterwards.


2. Dismiss standard writing practices altogether.

This doesn’t mean you can’t take some chances now and then. Heck, with all the competition in the publishing race, if you’re not trying something different, you won’t matter.

But don’t decide on avant garde gimmicks of rule disposal only for the sake of being the next literary Warhol.

If you compose an entire work in nothing but lowercase letters, you’ll likely be shown the door without a second thought.

If you write in baby-talk, submit a 100,000 word novel in second person without a plot, or list everything you’ve said for a week, forget it.

E.E. Cummings got away with it. Few others have.

Again, this is a common sense thing. Use it.


3. Submit your book without having used a beta reader.

It takes a long time to write a book, speaking for most of us. I have friends who claim they can write a full-length novel in under a couple of weeks, and I’ve seen enough new material from these particular friends to almost believe them.

But in any case, as soon as the masterpiece is finished, there’s a period of serious love/hate that happens, followed (we hope) by revisions, editing, grammar polishing, more revisions, and finally, utter exhaustion and burnout.

That last one—burnout—is important.

You have to get there before you can call it finished.

I once heard somewhere, and I love to repeat this, that a true writer never finishes a book. He only gets sick of looking at it.

There is always something that can be better, be tighter; be more amazing, or less boring.

There comes a time when you just have to let it go.

But take heed. When that time does come, don’t mail the pages off to the first editor you think of. (And definitely not the first twenty!)

Hang on to it for a day or thirty. Let it mellow, and let yourself forget about it as much as possible.

Then, have someone you can trust for honest advice have a gander. This can be a friend, a relative, a co-worker—anyone who’s: a) willing, b) semi-interested, and c) absolutely forthright in opinion-sharing.

It will do you no good to have your grandmother read the story and tell you that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Don’t pick someone who you are pretty sure (or positive!) will fail at being able to separate you from your work.

If, however, your grandmother hates you but loves legal thrillers, and that’s what you’ve written… she’s probably a good candidate.

Whomever you choose, do yourself a huge favor and make sure other eyes than yours read the words before you send them off to a professional.


4. Start over from the beginning each time you make a slight change.

Don’t do this. Resist the temptation.

You’ll never get past the third chapter.

Say you have a novel set in Arizona, in the dead of summer, and you’ve got 85,000 words that say so.

Further say that you’ve happily edited your merry way to about page 126 of said novel, when you suddenly realize that your girl speaks as if she’s from Arizona, but should really be living in a tiny town in the Texas heartland by the time all your action takes place.

Sure, you could scroll to page numero uno and strike out on the long journey again.

But what’s infinitely easier—and ultimately more practical—is to make a physical note to yourself of what page you started the Texas idea on, and keep truckin’, especially when you stop to consider that you could easily change your mind again and create a tangle of where you’re going.

Certainly you can nab and switch the details in the future pages, but unless it changes your entire plotline to replace the name of the town and a few details about the humidity, a simple find and replace function can take a few minutes in the place of the hours you’d spend fixing it now.



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