How to Edit Your Manuscript

Why Authors Should Edit

If there is an underlying difference between a professional and an amateur is the level of editing put into the writing. Editing goes beyond the simple spelling and punctuation corrections most of us are forced into during grade school. Editing and rewriting are an essential part of the writing process because it allows you the ability to mold your story into what it was truly meant to be.

Many new authors struggle to even finish their first book. Once they do, they find themselves with a deep sense of accomplishment and a desire to share their work with the world. This is a good thing. Of all the people that set out to write a story, on average only 5 percent actually finish. Writing a novel and completing it is a monumental achievement that any author should be proud of.

Experienced authors and writers around the world have expressed the importance of editing. In the traditional publishing market, professional editors work with authors to make sure the book represents the best possible version of the story. There are always ways to improve the words you used to tell your story, the order of events, and even the length. The first step of editing is understanding that your book can be better and that you don’t have to be afraid to make changes.

Stephen King wrote in his Memoir On Writing “Kill your darlings…even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart.” This is a much easier thing to say than to put into practice.

There are many ways to edit your manuscript. Finding the method that is the best method for you will enable you to have the results you are seeking. Here are several ideas, tips, and tools which will help you begin your task of “killing your darlings.”

Editing the Fiction Manuscript

To further take from Author Stephen King, he recommends that you begin your editing journey by setting aside your manuscript’s first draft for a time, even up to two months, before tackling the editing tasks. This allows you to get a fresh, more objective look at your work.

After this period of time apart from your work, read through the entire manuscript, making notes of things that need to be fixed. Do not stop and fix each item along the way. This can cause you to get bogged down and discouraged. Allow yourself to get a good overview of your work first.

With your list of items that need to be addressed, fixed, changed, or rewritten, begin to tackle one aspect at a time. Here are several categories you may find helpful to break down your edits to begin working on one thing at a time.

* plot
* story world
* individual settings
* characters / character arcs
* dialog
* voice synonyms (such as uttered or vented)
* voice descriptions (such as sensuous or insistent)
* message / theme
* flow
*slow spots

Choosing only one aspect to focus on and ignoring all others can help to ensure a consistency and sense of progress. For example, if the characters need more description, develop them further, skipping all the setting aspects that may be underdeveloped. On another pass through the manuscript, flesh out the settings.

When focusing on the characters, check to see if their dialog is in tune with the personality you want them to have. For example, there are ways to describe a voice. Is the snarky character speaking and acting snarky? Is the comic relief character truly funny? Are there two or more characters that can be confused because they don’t have unique personalities throughout? If so, decide on ways that each character can stand out from all the others.

Approaching the editing of your fiction work in this way can seem very time consuming and require a significant amount of patience. However, by tackling the very important and necessary job of editing it piece by piece, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed by a job that can get complicated and stressful. It is far easier and enjoyable to zero in on the description of one character than it is to adjust the descriptions of all the characters during one pass through the manuscript.

Once the larger picture is perfected, it is now time to edit the grammar, sentence structure, word choice, chapter size and the like.

When you have done all that you can do to make your manuscript as good as you can get it, it is time to move to the next step. Here are some options:

* Hire a professional editor to find problems you have missed
* Submit your manuscript to a book editor
* Self-publish your book

Editing Your Nonfiction Manuscript

Whether you are writing how-to book or pamphlet, tips for self-help or a technical manual, your manuscript will need to be edited.

A formatting sheet or style sheet is very useful for keeping the formatting consistent throughout. This sheet should be on hand before beginning your writing. It can include:

* Margins specifications
* Where page numbers will appear on the page (top, bottom, left, right, middle)
* Whether all pages will be formatted the same or left and right will be mirror images
* Font sizes for heading and subheadings
* Where each chapter heading will begin on the page (10 lines down, for example)
* Font styles for heading and body text
* How quotes will appear (indented to spaces and in italics, for example)
* How the introduction and conclusion in each chapter will appear consistent
* How footnotes or references will be structured
* Whether footnotes will appear on the page or at the end of the book
* How lists and bullet points will appear
* If certain words that do not appear at the beginning of sentences will be capitalized (such as lists of parts in a technical manual)

If there will be images or quotes in your manuscript, determine if they must have a reference and/or permission to use them. Quotes or lyrics from very old publications may not need to be referenced since copyright protections have expired.

You may want chapters in a self-help book to be about the same length. If so, you may decide at the beginning to have short chapters within a certain range of words.

Tying the book together prevents chapters from seeming disjointed. Even in a technical manual, the author can refer to details in other chapters. Furthermore, a summary of what has been covered so far can make a book cohesive.

There are many ways to edit your manuscript, whether it is fiction and nonfiction. The ways outlined here are tested to be successful and make your finished product polished and professional.

Revision Is Magic

Author Obert Sky gave a TEDx Talk entitled The Magic of Revision where he stated the wonderful and accurate fact that revision is magic. Revision lets you start again, try something new, transform and create something good into something beautiful.

A story can be compared unto a block of clay. The artist has an idea so they begin to sculpt. Throughout the processes they take clay away or add it back, create the desired shape, then begin to carve away and design their work. A writer does the same thing, sculpting characters, settings, and plot. Sometimes words need to be added and sometimes they must be taken away. The overall shaping of the work takes time and can not always be completed in a single draft. What matters is that you keep working towards the finished masterpieces that will show the world what you are capable of.

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