Editing and Revision Tips for Your Work
Transform Your First Draft With Highlighters
At my first local half-day conference two years ago, I attended a workshop titled, "Editing and Revising Your Work." I’ve copied down tons of notes. This first half deals with editing and revision.
As writers, we either love or hate to edit and revise our work in many drafts to get it down and polished for a final manuscript.
Editing is done after every draft, and it helps to organize the edits and their purpose. For the second draft, we should highlight the wrong words in different colors. For anything we need to research, we should put in brackets. If you write fiction, we should print, then read it out loud those areas we need to "show" rather than "tell." In the third or fourth draft, we should correct the highlighted words.
When you highlight your manuscript, you should choose different colors like yellow for dialogue, blue for words that don’t fit like -ly words and extra words, and red for characters. Your highlighted text will help you make sure it sounds right. You can check dialogue vs. narrative, and also to see if what doesn’t propel the story, and if their character traits are consistent.
Find Shortcuts With Your Keyboard
Your Computer Is Your New BFF
Your computer is your new best friend with a couple of keys to fix your work. You can move around sentences and paragraphs with the cut and copy and paste keys. You can find a name, phrase, or a place with the Find and Replace option. You can highlight text with a color and indent in your toolbar. You can also use the zoom feature to spot things and enlarge your manuscript in the view tab.
"Writing Is Rewriting"
In your word processing software, you can cut and copy/paste with those icons. It can help you improve your story structure to move words and sentences, anywhere in your manuscript. Complete sentences are desirable to make your piece read smoothly, enhance tension, and begin with a bigger bang.
As for Find and Replace, you can click on “find’ to “replace” any unnecessary words to erase adjectives and adverbs such as very, just, so, even, rather, that, quite, suddenly, and so on. Use them sparingly.
Indents are used to indent the first line in the paragraph. Keep the chapter length consistent and shorter, like 6–15 pages. Your margins should be an inch around paragraphs, so adjust the tabs by indenting them for paragraphs. Space breaks should be used for shifting POV or the time.
Editing Isn't About Grammar
Good grammar alone won’t sell your manuscript. It’s the story and how well it’s written that will. That’s what you need to concentrate on when writing the first, second, and third drafts. Your first paragraph should be powerful and engaging, introduce your characters early on, and use all the good elements of writing: lively writing, believable dialogue, captivating scenes, intriguing or memorable descriptions, and so on.
Here are some revision tips you need to concentrate on to make it sparkle with life:
- Print it out after you think it’s finished. Some writers edit on a screen when you can easily miss mistakes, typos, and awkward sentences. Then put it away. Don’t look at it for a couple of days. Then when you’re ready, you can read it with a fresher perspective.
- Next, read your work out loud to hear how it sounds. If you have someone to trust, or have a knowledgable friend or spouse to read the manuscript, they could give you feedback. You can also dictate words into a tape recorder and play them back. Listen for voice (is it clear or sound stiff), if you breath runs out before completing long sentences (time for a comma or period), if your tongue trips over certain words (one- or two-syllable words are often best). Reading out loud helps you notice if it flows smoothly and catches awkward sentences, and realize if you need to explain something in greater depth.
- When you’re merely looking for repeated words or typos, give this a try: scan your work backward, from the bottom to the top of the page. This forces the eye to focus on one word at a time, which stops the mind from skimming over errors.
- Here’s another idea to help you out with your editing. Take your hard copy and go someplace else to read and edit it. A different environment would help you look at your work with less familiarity. After you set it aside for a while, then read it in a different place (coffee shops and libraries are great!), you can see it almost as someone else’s work. Imagine that you’re an unknown reader passing time waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office and happen to pick up the article, essay, or book. Then read it as someone far removed from the piece. After the first paragraph, is this worth reading further? Interesting? Is prose clear and engaging, etc.?
- KILL YOUR DARLINGS!!! Go back through your piece and cut, reword, perfect. Imagine you’re a sculptor and need to hone and polish your masterpiece. Sometimes we think our prose is so wonderful, and then when we read it out loud, it doesn’t sound so hot. You might think it’s brutal, but kill them (or cut and paste into a file marked ‘'My Darlings'’), and see if the story or article reads better without it. Then you can decide on what needs changing, or if you should put it back. When you cut the darlings out, sometimes it tightens the storyline and makes it much more effective. Remember, sentences that begin with ‘'In my opinion", or ‘'One time I" (Watch for too many I’s in first-person prose), or “In conclusion,” are unnecessary banter and should be eliminated. Take out meaningless adjectives that don’t really describe anything, such as beautiful, cold, delicious, which are all subjective. Show the reader WHY it was beautiful or cold, etc., through more descriptive words, scenes, and dialogue.
- After careful word-by-word editing, now consider the content of the piece. Ask yourself this question: What’s the central idea I’m trying to communicate? This is something you should really do as you write the piece, but oftentimes the story gets away from you, so it’s a good idea to remind yourself what you’re really trying to convey in the piece.
- Trust your inner voice and intuition. Something about the piece feels nagging, but we have a tendency not to listen to what our writers’ instincts are telling us. Read the piece two or three times out loud. If you find yourself stumbling over the same sentence or paragraph, be honest with yourself and realize it needs to be cut or revised.
- Finally, have someone you trust—another writer or someone who reads a lot—to thoroughly read the manuscript and give their honest opinion. (So don’t use your mother, who will love it no matter how bad it is!) Always consider their criticisms, and you may see that they're right.
However, do keep in mind how you feel about the changes suggested, and then respond accordingly!
Print Out Hard Copies With a Printer
Final Notes on Editing and Revisions
I hope these eight steps on editing and revising your manuscript on your computer and hard copy printouts help you refine your work to a polished and final version. Please feel free to share, comment, and copy these notes for further reference!
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Kristen Howe