Attack of the Red Pen: Part I – How to Edit Your Manuscript

By on July 31, 2014 . Category Column

So you’ve written a book.  Yay!

…Now what?

Odds are you’re editing and revising.  Which is great, because, as Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

So, how can you effectively edit your own work?  By taking planned and deliberate steps, which I’ll tell you all about right here!



Let it sit.

Set that bad boy aside and let it settle.  Let your own mind rest, too, by getting away from your story for a while.  The distance will give you perspective you lack when you’re submerged in your story’s world.  Step back.  Take a break.  Catch up on that sleep you probably lost during the writing.  It’ll do you good.



There is nothing like a real, hard-copy, printed draft and a red pen.  You see typos and errors on the printed page that are simply invisible on the screen.  It also gets you away from the computer—full of distractions and obligations—and into your book wholly.  It’s the editing version of writing your first hand by draft.


Read It Out Loud

Harrison Ford famously said of the Star Wars script: “You can write this shit, George, but you can’t say it.”

Reading your manuscript out loud—preferably to an audience—will give you a much clearer idea of the flow, the pacing, and the overall feel of the prose.  It’s kind of how our voice always sounds different when we hear it over a recording; we can’t see things as they are when we’re too close in them.


Recruit Help

There will come a time when you can no longer look at your manuscript.  You just won’t be able to stand it anymore.  It’s about the point when the coffee runs out and your eyes get stuck crossed because you’ve been reading day in and day out.

When this happens (or, maybe before, to save your sanity), you need to recruit some outside help.  You’ve made some writer friends by now (right?), so go to them (if you’ve been doing things like I recommended, you’ve already helped them with their edits, so they should be thrilled to return the favor).


Make Notes (And Then A Plan)

Make notes like crazy!  Make notes on your printed manuscript, and in Evernote, and in a notebook—anywhere and everywhere.  You need to know what you’re doing , and what’s wrong with your book (and trust me, there are multiple things wrong with it), so don’t be afraid to jot down ideas, thoughts, and concerns; you’re going to need them when you start sorting out the mess that is your book (and turning it into that awesome story you know it can be).

The notes will help you form your plan of attack.  This is the list of things you need to do when you start applying those changes you decided upon.  You might make some contradicting decisions in the middle of your edits, so be sure to review ALL your notes beforehand—it’ll help you see the big picture, keep things in perspective, and figure out where you need to make improvements.


Next week, we’ll talk about pro-editors and strategies for finding the right fit for you!


What’s an editing strategy that you love?  What do you do that helps you turn your drafts from bad to awesome?


See Also

Attack of the Red Pen: Part II – I Think You Need Professional Help

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