Thursday, March 5, 2015

Just step AWAY from the manuscript. **EDITING OBJECTIVELY**

It's not you, Manuscript, it's me. I think we need some space.

You may be asking yourself this same question. But it's true. 

This post is going to let you in on a little golden nugget of wise advice: 
Put a chunk of time and space between you and your manuscript before you edit.

Repeat after me: I will not edit for a minimum of 4-6 weeks. 

Now say it again!

Okay, realistically, this isn't always going to happen. If you're an established author on deadline with your publisher, you may work down to the wire. But even so, if you're an established author, you pretty much know this rule of thumb anyway, and hopefully those are the revisions that are down to the wire, and not the first draft to your editor. Give yourself enough time to let the manuscript sit, settle, and cool off before you attempt any edits.

I know you're looking at me with this face:

TRUST ME ON THIS! You will only do yourself a disservice if you attempt to edit or revise without clearing your head.

The best editing I've done is when I have put at least six months between me and a manuscript. Hell, I've even come back to ones after a year. It's amazing the things you will see with fresh eyes.

When you come at a manuscript while you're still in the heat of the moment, you won't catch things. While the story is still fresh in your mind, you're too attached to your characters to do any kind of edits objectively. In this day and age of instant gratification and technology, it actually hurts us more than helps us aspiring authors. It makes us send things out into the world well before they're ready.

EVERY author will tell you they've queried at least once, often times more than once, way before they should have. I know you want to put your book baby out into the world to be loved by an agent or editor and all your adoring fans just waiting to love on it. But don't put something out there you will regret in a year or two. Save yourself the regrets, and double shots of whiskey, while you're drowning in the query trenches up your eyeballs in rejection letters.

Your story plays out in your mind as you're reading it, so as the author, you have a tendency to gloss over things as you're reading. I guarantee you will miss grammatical errors that everyone else, and their cousins, will catch.

You need to be able to distance yourself from your characters, from your plot, from the way the story plays like a movie in your mind. Readers can't see the movie in your head, you MUST be able to put that to the page. If you don't come at it from a fresh angle, you will never be able to see what others see. And you have to in order to make others see what's in your head.

I guarantee it, plot lines happen in your mind without you even knowing it. A large portion of that never makes it into your story. Coming at your manuscript from a distance will allow you to be pulled into your world without being tethered. Your umbilical cord, for lack of a better term, will be cut and you'll be able to read word for word and see what's missing.

It will also allow you to read through it again as a reader, not as an author. If you find yourself skimming, then you know what you have to do.

When you can pick up your manuscript and say to yourself--"Wow, I don't even remember writing that. That was a great line!" Or, similarly, "Wow, what the hell was I smoking when I wrote this?" You're ready to edit.

On more than one occasion I've caught things in a manuscript after coming at it with fresh eyes and repeatedly facepalm myself. If you don't have any WTF moments when you're editing, you haven't put enough time and space between you and your darlings.

If you read through it and think what you've written is absolute gold, go put yourself in a timeout. Start writing something new, or take a writing break completely and watch some reality TV. That will give you some perspective. But that's another post for another time.

If you've read through the manuscript after letting it sit and you find yourself with a goose egg on your forehead from repeatedly facepalming yourself, get that red pen out and start slicing and dicing.

Also, grab your favorite editing drink of choice, you'll be in this stage for a while.

The thought of having to do revisions can be overwhelming. But every manuscript needs an edit. Every author will tell you that. Even the greats don't make a perfect first draft. A beautiful book baby is a lot of work. The majority of that comes from repeated revisions and letting go of your darlings; from characters to what you once thought were genius lines. 

In the end, you will have a gorgeous book you can be proud of. Nothing worth anything ever comes easy. So why put something out into the world that isn't your very best?

Some books take years of writing and rewriting. Some books come out a little quicker, but still need loving care and genuine, objective revisions. It'll be frustrating, it'll be agonizing, it'll be fun to kill off character, it'll give you pride to know you put your heart and soul into a project to make it its very best.

And then the day will come:

But that's another post for another time.

And for those of you ready to partake in the editing phase, after going through your waiting period of course, here's a link to a great month-long editing course: Janice Hardy's FICTION UNIVERSITY

Happy Editing!


  1. I'd much rather revise than write the first draft, so I don't always wait as long as I should between finishing the draft and grabbing the red pen. Space does help, however. Maybe with my next project...

  2. Such a good post. When I came back to BRIAR after a year I was like whoa. Crap.

  3. I've learned this lesson the hard way. This time around, things are sitting and fermenting nicely. :) Great post!
    In gratitude,

  4. I'm in the middle of editing a manuscript and have a question. At what point do I get beta readers involved? Before or after that last big edit? Great post, by the way,

    ~ Olivia J. Herrll

    1. I usually send a second draft to my Critique Partners to shred before doing any further edits on it. Then once I've completed any revisions from their suggestions I send to betas. Betas are really your testing the waters, so you want to make sure you have a clean version before sending.

  5. Oh gosh, it's so true. I love these posts!
    Especially the re-writing the query thing. So very important!

  6. Yep, I usually have a few months between first draft and first revision...

  7. Yep, a few months for me. If I find myself skimming then it's not put away long enough. Great post!