Editing Your Manuscript

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 14 2007

I recently got a full-length mirror and I hate it. For years I went without, only viewing those parts of me I was comfortable looking at—my hair, my shoulders, my neck, and of course my shoes. But now I’ve decided it’s time to really know what I look like before I face the public. After all, it benefits me to know I have a run in my tights before I’m speaking in front of a crowd.

You know why I have refused to get a full-length mirror for so long? For the same reason authors cling to their favorite chapters or passages. It’s easier to love the parts than it is the whole. To really, honestly succeed in this business you need to stop parceling out your book into those favorite parts and start looking at the entire thing. No matter how much you love that clever little sentence, does it really work with the entire book as a whole? And is it really necessary to have those first three chapters? No matter how much you love them, do they truly add anything to the story?

In the same way I need to stop closing one eye when critiquing myself in that horrible full-length mirror, you need to stop clinging to those favorite passages. Readers are not evaluating you on one sentence alone, but want the complete package.

So, I’m off to buy a new full-length mirror, one that doesn’t make me look like I’m standing in a fun house. How do you intend to start looking at the whole?


14 responses to “Editing Your Manuscript”

  1. Avatar mbg says:

    Time. Nothing helps me see the whole more than putting a manuscript down for a week, a month, a year, and moving on to another project. When I pick it up again, it feels fresh and I can clearly see all the mistakes, weaknesses, as well as the strengths.

  2. Avatar jolinn says:

    lol, you always come up with the answer when I’ve just formulated the question.

    Editing hurts, but you can always save those good bits in a file.

  3. Avatar Babe King says:

    The only way to be comfortable with a hole is to buy a doughnut.

  4. Avatar Joe Moore says:

    Editing is like going in for surgery. You should come out healthier.

  5. Avatar Liz Wolfe says:

    I don’t have a really big problem with “killing my darlings” but I just hate to delete anything. I write really tight and that means a low word count, so when I have to delete even small bits, I end up short and have to think of ways to expand the plot. In the end, I suppose that works, because then I end up with a more complex story.

  6. Avatar Kimber An says:

    Head cold. I always do my most efficient editing when I’m sickerin’ a calf with the slobbers. I feel absolutely no sentiment. “Stinks – delete, works, works, stinks – delete.”

  7. Avatar Cole says:

    Awesome post!!!!


  8. Yep, mbg got it. The further away I get the more able I am to honestly evaluate a work.

  9. This is a fantastic post topic. Editing is one of the hardest things to do. As a writer, I know I get way too attached to certain scenes, certain ideas in my head. I have to give myself room for improvement.

    Thanks for this.

  10. Avatar amy m says:

    The further I get away from it, the easier it is, but I also tend to edit and edit and edit, so after a while, I can’t look at it anymore. I’m there with my current book now.

    It also really helps to have someone that will be brutally honest with you about what’s wrong. Because sometimes I can’t see/refuse to see it. Usually after my, HEY! moment, I realize, no they’re right, this and this and this is bad.

    Having to trim down to a certain word count helps too. I’d almost rather overwrite than underwrite, because then I’m thinking, “I need a lower word count, that chapter doesn’t really need to be there, cut!”

  11. Avatar Anil P says:

    Much as authors like to revel in the comfort of well oiled passages, they’re in effect seeking to make sense of their works from the easy fluidity of their favourite parts.

    And can you blame them for that? If sum of parts make up the whole, then somewhere wouldn’t the heart count for more than a hand? Or for that matter wouldn’t the brain score over a leg?

    So what if it takes them all to complete the package, some parts will always be more equal than the others. Else how do you explain to those of us who return to our favourite passages in our favourite books?

    It happens all the time, and it should, at least from my point of view.

  12. Avatar beverley says:

    Boy have I ever learned not to get too attached to scenes I really love and sentences I think are so smashing. I just butchered the beginning of my novel and although it initially hurt a little, what I replaced it with is so so much better. I have definitely learned how to cut.

  13. Avatar Michele Lee says:

    Not just time, but memory. I don’t remember clever little passages (which is fun when I let something sit for a year, then reread, then feel proud of myself), but I do remember plots and how certain things make me feel. Reflecting back on how I remember a story being, then comparing with how it really is after that break mbg mentioned, that helps me shine the story.

  14. Avatar catherine says:

    Excellent point, even if one is working on short stories, poetry, or non fiction; writers still have to ask themselves: “Does this (sentence/word/paragraph/etc.) serve my piece as a whole? Is my MS better, worse, or unaffected without it?” Sometimes we need people to remind us of Hemingway’s chestnut: “murder your darlings.”