Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My New-Fangled Editing Technique

So, a few weeks back, I was all set to be DONE already. I'd edited my WIP until I was thoroughly sick of it. I'd  tortured many brave betas (who, fortunately, almost universally loved it). I'd started researching agents and figuring out who to query first.

Then I read a blog (sorry--can't find it now) that said I really ought to, like, print it out and read it on paper before declaring myself done. Bother.

So I did. I'm cheap, so I expanded all my pages to legal-size and printed 2-per-sheet. The text is tiny, but hey, my eyes are still good. I started reading. And marking. Lots. In red.

Then the two wonderful readers (my mother and Susan Jensen) who had already read my book countless times each and generously agreed to give it a quick, final once-over for me... had some major issues. Double bother. I'd only gotten through about 50 pages myself (does it say something when you have a beta reader who has read the book more than you have?), but I stopped, shelved the sheaf, and dug into another substantive edit.

A week or so passed. I fixed the issues (I hope), and printed it out AGAIN.

Got out my red pen.

Started reading, sure that, at least in the first 50 pages, it'd be pretty dang good. Yeah, well, not as much as I hoped.

Turns out one of the best ways to spot the line-edity issues in your WIP is the old-fashioned way. Paper. Ink. Scribbles and arrows.

Who knew?

Now if I can just get past the fact that my book is starting to REALLY bore me, we'll be in business. I'm only comforted by the fact that this is the only book I've read that can hold my attention THIS LONG. :)

So what about you? Any tips on editing? Tricks to find those hidden errors? Fancy ritual dances that will make the same-old text I've read a thousand times now suddenly seem fresh and new?


  1. I read it backwards. Reading backwards removes the flow of prose that usually hides grammar and sentence structure problems. I agree that there is no real substitute for hard copy review. Something about paper.

  2. I've never printed it out to read my WIP's, but it sounds like a great idea. I may have to try it with this one ... :)

  3. I'm terrible with pen and paper so I convert my ms to mobie format and open it on my kindle so I can highlight and make notes. Plus, it makes it look so bookish *giggles* and it's free. :D

  4. So just last night I was asking my 18yo if she wanted me to print out my latest ms or if she was okay to read it on the computer. She said she wanted good old-fashioned paper so she could mark it up. I started a token argument about being able to mark up a computer document too, then decided not to argue with my most effective and brutally honest editor! Seems like she has something there.

    How long have you given your ms time to "cook" on the shelf before editing it? I let mine rest at least a month. It actually turns out to be much longer than a month since I never go back and re-read any part of a WIP, unless I need to check something for clarification. Then, when I finally sit down for those first editing sessions, I find myself wanting to turn the page to find out what happens next. Of course, by the time the final edit rolls around I'm sick to death of the whole book and just wish it would go die in a fire...

  5. JD--b a c k w a r d s. Why didn't I think of that? :)

    Chantele--it's surprisingly helpful. Do try.

    CherylAnne--I'm a technophile. I CANNOT compose on paper. Must. Have. Keyboard. Also, I don't own a kindle yet. :( One of the beautiful things about this paper-pen thing, though, is that I can more quickly glance over the last couple pages and find the spot where I-already-said-that or I-said-the-opposite.

  6. Kristin--I've given my WIP several "marination" resting periods over the writing/editing process. That absolutely helps. :)

  7. I'm on my second paper printing (hate the killing of trees to do it!) and it is so helpful. The other thing that is useful for me it is to read it out loud. Takes some time but I catch things I mentally fill in while reading silently. Great post and great comments. Thanks!

  8. I had this same experience and my ms bled red. It was like I was reading it for the first time. Another writer also suggested changing the font and find size for a similar effect.

  9. Great tip Robin!

    Donna, what font and size did they suggest?

  10. First, it is so nice to know I'm not the only one tired of my own book. I felt really bad last night when I didn't want to work on edits, but started reading a new book instead.

    Second, I've printed through my writing process and it REALLY helps. My husband isn't a reader, so I will read it out loud to him sometimes, and the sentence just won't sound right. So, I have to cross out and try again.

    Hope these last edits won't take to long for you ;0)

  11. The great writer/editor Anne Mini (annemini.com) says almost daily on her blog to read your ms in hard copy & out loud. It really works!

  12. Ah, editing the old-fashioned way - what a concept! Line editing is much easier for me when I've got a printed ms and a pen in hand.

    Can't wait to read the sparkly, finished product!

  13. Nicole--I know, right? Killing trees is awful.

    Donna--I've heard the font size thing, too. I was gonna do that instead of printing, but decided to bow to the inevitable.

    Shelly--I don't think any particular font or size matters--it's just making it look different, so you trick your eyes into actually reading it. :)

    Jenny--I hope so, too! :)

    Nancy--I read some parts (especially dialogue parts) out loud to myself.

    Susan--I think you printed my WIP long before I did. :) I'm frankly amazed that you'd be willing to wade through it again--even if it might be sparkly then. You're amazing.

  14. Printing it on paper is a GREAT way to spot more things. My WIPs usually end up printed numerous times before I'm done with them. Yes, it takes lots of printer paper and ink (and I wish I'd known a long time ago that I could set my printer to 'draft' to save ink!) but it's worth it. You should have seen the stack of manuscript drafts I had at one point.

    I totally hear you on all the red pages and then issues when you think it's done.

    And then I have the editing passes where I'm looking for specific words that I know I use a lot, or changing the passive voice to the active voice, or WHATEVER. Each book teaches me something new--and sometimes, each draft of each book teaches me something new!

  15. I like doing it the old-fashioned way, except putting it back on the computer makes me groan. Still, in the end it's worth it to have a better MS.

  16. Laura--what do you do with the printed drafts? It seems such a shame to throw them away.

    Jenna--Yeah, it sure is faster to just edit on the computer: spot an issue, fix the issue, move on! Of course, if I'm missing a bunch of stuff, that'll shorten my time, too.

  17. It is so much easier to spot errors on paper than on the computer screen. I do this too. :)

  18. It's strange how different things look actually printed on paper than they do on a screen. Why is that?

    One of my beta readers changes the font and margins of the manuscripts he reads. He says this makes mistakes "jump off the page" It must work, because he notices crazy stuff that I would never see.

  19. I have one beta reader (my sister) who refused to read it unless I print it out, but I've never edited on paper. Thanks for the tip.

  20. Printing out is the way to go. I still have my first draft of the first thing I ever written. It is hilarious bad.

  21. Cherie--I always thought I was catching most of the errors on computer. I really only printed it out because this blog said it was, like, a law. :) D-oh.

    Jennifer--I've heard that the back-lit-ness of a computer screen helps our eyes skim over things.

    Angie--I have betas who read it on paper long before I got smart enough. :)

    Jessie--LOL. What a great keepsake!

  22. I also print it out for each major revision. My eyes hurt after a while scrolling thru digital pages...plus I see things easier when I have a pen in my hand. When I'm done with it, I staple several pages together, white-side up- and give to my 5 y/o to make his own 'book' from. :)
    And like everyone else, I let my WIP sit at least a month after completing a rough draft. Now I wonder if I need to do that after each major revision...? Agh. That would take YEARS.

  23. Melodie--I think I'll probably stick to printing it for the line edit. I'm hoping I can spot plot holes in digital format. :) Plus, computers don't hurt my eyes.

    I took more marination periods on this once because it's my first. I'm hoping to someday reach the point where I don't need to make such major revisions anymore. :)