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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!