Five steps to editor ready

The editing, one’s own editing, before the editor sees it, is the most important – Dr. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou‘s quote resonated with me when I first read it. But I didn’t really get her point until I edited my own manuscript.

After receiving supportive feedback from beta readers and encouraging ‘get it done’ advice at an advanced novel workshop, I set out to edit my WWI-era novel. A little spit. A little polish. I thought I’d be done in a couple of weeks.

Lucky for me my editor couldn’t get me into her schedule for a couple of months. Editing was not a one-time tweaking of spelling and grammar. The more I edited, the more I found there was to do. Here are the five steps I took to get my manuscript editor ready.Editing

  1. Absorbed and acted on beta reader feedback. The honest feedback of readers with fresh eyes sent me back in to add character details, deepen historical threads, and eliminate moments that caused readers to scream, Enough. Editing wasn’t just about commas, capitals and cutting. I also re-wrote, cut, and added.
  2. Searched and eliminated overused words. Using Sharla Rae’s list of echo words, I went through my manuscript front to back, over and over. In the process of finding the words on her list, I spotted other over-used words in my story. This was an insanely tedious task. Even using the Word¬†search & replace function, I could only stomach searching a dozen words a day.
  3. Printed it out. Seeing the words on paper is different than reading them on a computer screen. I actually printed everything out twice. Once as a double-spaced Word document. The second time, I formatted the document as though it was an actual book, in a different type face, with justified, single-spaced lines. Both versions yielded dramatically different editing points.
  4. Read the entire manuscript out loud. We hear things differently than we see them. Reading out loud forced me to slow down and listen. Awkward phrases, poor word choices and duplication stood out when I heard the words. I found it was easy to read so long that I no longer heard. I could only read about 50 pages a day before I wore out.
  5. Remained open to making it better, until …¬† I venture to guess I went through my entire manuscript start to finish 40-50 times. As late as the afternoon of the day I hit ‘send’ to get the manuscript to my editor, I was questioning, making changes, improving. Asked when she knew she was done writing, Anne Lamott said, “You just sort of realize at some point your OCD has begun to hurt the work.” I was there. I knew I had to let it go.

Recently, I blogged about what I learned about editing during a walk in the prairie with my granddaughter. One of those learnings was: Trust your gut. This is your story. It’s your name on the cover. If you haven’t put everything in it, an editor can’t get it there. I believe that’s what Dr. Angelou meant.

My writing goal has always been to tell the best story I can, as well as I can. When I launched my manuscript into my editor’s hands, I was proud of the work.

What steps have you found helpful in editing? Please share. I know there are always ways I can make my editing process better!

Comments

  1. I got feedback from a critique group and read over the manuscript several times looking for problems with the story and anything that didn’t make sense. I line edited obsessively. It annoys me when I point out errors in a manuscript and the writer says dismissively, “I let the copy editor fix those things.”

  2. Thanks for making a really important point, Mary. Those writers don’t realize a copy editor is human and only one set of eyes. I saw one editor who refused to take a job if there were more than three copy/grammar errors on the first page. I expect editors want to work with writers who are as concerned about the quality of the work as they are.

  3. Well done, Carol. The misuse of echo words is interesting as we seem to do it subconsciously. Good luck with the next phase.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      The echo words were so surprising, Belinda. I know I use “just” as filler. What I wasn’t aware of was how many times works like: about, would, around, can, know, and a host of others crept in. After I deleted them, I couldn’t tell where they’d been. Amazing!

  4. Great points. Amazing how the reading out loud picks up things and the printed page as well. The weirdest thing is what I think in the early stages vs. the feedback. Then somewhere along the line I get more in sync with the feedback. And, boy can I relate to the Anne Lamott quote. Have her book, “Bird by Bird” in my bookshelf. She’s a great inspiration. I’m so happy your process is approaching birth to the world.

  5. The evolution of a manuscript is weird, Paulette. Each time I gave my manuscript to a group of beta readers, or to individual readers, I thought it was good. I wouldn’t have given it to them otherwise. And each time they saw things I hadn’t. I’m much happier with the story now. And eager to see what the editor says. I’m sure she’ll make it even better.

  6. Philip Larson says:

    Without using one of the on-line editing wizards to identify overused words and phrases, I would be sunk! “Just” was one of my worst offenders too. It was worth paying for the ability to copy/paste chunks of manuscript text and receive an almost-instant, printable response with highlighted problems. After using this wizard, other text problems stood out like sore thumbs on the printed page. So the exercise really served a dual purpose for me.
    Liked your insight about printing your manuscript two different ways and thus seeing it in a different manner. I’ll try that, thanks for the tip!

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Glad you found a tip you can try, Phillip.
      I’ve never used one of those editing wizards but your endorsement makes me consider it. I’ve recently come across a couple of sites that do free analyses: wordcounter.com and sporkforge.com/text/word_count.php These are for smaller texts than an entire book.

  7. Hi Carol,

    I had to chuckle about you going through your manuscript 40-50 times. Whew!
    I agree with Leonardo da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

  8. Great tips, Carol. Thanks for sharing. I belong to a critique group and get some help from that, but when we can only read 3 pages at a time and only present once every few months, it only helps in those parts we can present. I have always found it easier to pick up mistakes when I print out the manuscript. One of my overused words is “seem/s/ed” and I think I have deleted it or replaced it so many times that I’m more aware and don’t use it as much now. “That” is another ‘bad’ one. I can remove “that” over and over and still find more of them than I need. I also read the ms aloud. It does make a huge difference. I like your idea of formatting it like a book to read it again. I’ll have to try that. I can see the value of it. I read so many books and pick out many errors in them, so I would probably find them more easily this way for my own work. I also find that if I put it aside for a few weeks and then read it ‘fresh’ I find more errors. Like you, I go over it multiple times and it could go on almost forever if you don’t come to that place where you simply say, “Enough!”

  9. “Seems” is one of my overused weasel words, too, Diane. I believe it comes from my years in public relations where I learned that speaking definitively about things held its dangers because as soon as I said something, the environment changed. Better to couch a comment with, “It seems …” In novels, however, we want our characters to speak with authority – more chances for them to get in trouble!

    I can see that reading three pages at a time is good for proof reading, but for spotting and editing plot and character inconsistencies, you’d need to see much larger sections.

    Thanks for joining the discussion!

  10. i use critiquecircle and my writing group to improve my manuscript before sending to my editor, but i’ve always cringed at the reading out loud. i’m a slow reader and reading out loud mekes me even slower…
    great tips. thanks carol

  11. Any outside eyes can help (or hurt as you know from your White Swan stories), Annamaria! Actually reading out loud slowly is a benefit. It really makes you hear what you’ve written. Glad you found the tips helpful.

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