Editing a Manuscript


Now that NaNoWriMo is over, I should be done with my project, but I’m not.  At best, I’m halfway done, probably closer to a third of the way.  But I’m coming through my old site and pulling out gems.  This one is from October 31 of last year.  Enjoy!


After my post about how I published my novella, Fleshbags, an astute reader made the point that there’s a lot more to editing. And he’s right. I glossed over it originally, assuming that anyone who wrote would know you need some keen editing to polish up a manuscript.

There was something I learned years ago (back in my poetry days) that applies to prose as well. You have to know the rules before you can break the rules. It may not make too much sense but that’s all the difference between a beginning writer who uses poor grammar and punctuation as opposed to a seasoned writer who does the same thing. Case in point, Cormac McCarthy. It took a little bit for me to get into The Road simply because he never uses quotation marks when characters speak and he frequently uses fragmented sentences. But once you get over that minor hump, you realize it works.

Grammar and punctuation are the easiest mistakes to make, but they are also the easiest mistakes to fix. One of the most common mistakes I see is the improper close of a sentence after a character is speaking. For instance, “Leslie is never going to make it out of here.” he said.

By no means do I know everything. I was at a convention last year when I learned what a gerund was. I’ve sense learned and incorporated it into my writing (or rather, incorporated not using gerunds).

For this initial post on editing I’m going to keep it simple. There’s a whole world of editing, but first the basics should be followed. Editing actually begins in the first draft. Or a better way of stating it, not editing. In an initial draft, everything that comes into your brain should fall onto the page. It’s a huge temptation to go back and fix that word that was bugging you in the last paragraph, but trust me, it’s more important to keep going forward.

After you have that first draft, the very beginning of your novel should read like new to you and ideas of how you could better word phrases, paragraphs, and ideas will be so much more fluid to you. You’ll appreciate things you’ve written in a greater context and you’ll also see things that make absolutely no sense to you. Guess what—they’ll make absolutely no sense to your reader as well. Change it.

After you’ve done a second draft you aren’t done. It is your baby, you’re way too close to see all the errors. If you can line one up, it’d be great to get your story to someone who can give you a completely impartial opinion (probably not your mother). You may need to pay someone or you may have a buddy who writes and the two of you switch off. Whoever this person is, try not to take what they send back to you personally.

If you can afford to wait, let your manuscript marinate on a shelf for 3 months or so. Once you pick it up again, you’ll be able to read it again with fresh eyes. Some people draft several more times, but it’s really a matter of personal preference. I read an article where this one author said she drafts 70+ times. She’s published, so I can say her method is wrong, but I wouldn’t have the patience to do such a thing.

I’ll post more as it comes to me, but if you remember nothing else, keep in mind: write-write-write. That’s the most important thing you can do.


3 thoughts on “Editing a Manuscript”

  1. Great post! Editing is incredibly important, and I’ve found having someone other than myself critique my writing to be the most important part of my personal editing process, but not in the usual way.
    As a writer, you need to train at least one person to not pay so much attention to the actual words you write (though that is helpful) but instead to their feelings as they read! Are they bored, compelled, interested, annoyed, or angry…and at which parts of your piece…and for how long?
    This sort of feedback, especially if you have several folks reading this way, lets you edit not just sentence structure and grammar, but how the flow and structure of your manuscript are affecting your readers. The Holy Grail, of course, is when your writing’s so good they forget all about watching themselves as they read! But if they’re bored or annoyed, don’t let them suggest ideas on how to fix it; you’re the writer and it’s up to you to edit your manuscript for the effect you want.
    You really made me think, thanks so much!

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