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Step away from the draft and nobody gets hurt…

November 23, 2010

 As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, writing the first draft of a manuscript is only about half the journey. The other half is rewriting and revising what you’ve written. This can be challenge, because an author becomes so close to his or her work, it’s hard to see it objectively. So, the very first thing I do to revise a manuscript after I finish the first draft is leave it alone for a while.

The urge to jump in and start tinkering is strong, but I fight it. I need the mental distance to see the story objectively and clearly. I force myself to take a well-deserved break and give it a week before I snap on my tool belt and charge in.

Step 1. I zoom in on known problems. The first thing I fix are those scenes, character development issues, timeline problems—major structural or story problems—that I noticed as I was writing it. Sometimes I add scenes or chapters. Step one involves actual writing or rewriting rather than editing.

Step 2. I read through the entire manuscript on the computer from beginning to end looking for other major flaws outlined in Step 1 that I missed as I was writing the story. I don’t mess around with individual words other than to fix any typos that I spot.  (I’ve learned that if I don’t mark or fix a typo at the exact moment that I spot it, it becomes invisible). I ask myself, does the story make sense? Does it flow? Does it proceed in the proper sequence? Are the characters fully fleshed out and appropriately motivated? Have I done a “data dump” that needs to be broken up?

Step 3. I read through the manuscript again, now easing into editor mode, starting to shift from macro to micro. I change, add or delete paragraphs, sentences or words. I double check the continuity to ensure characters don’t change eye color or go from having a chin-length bob to waist-length hair in the span of two weeks.  I take a close look at my sex scenes. In addition to the choreography of body parts, I ensure that the sex scenes reflect physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings.

I usually enjoy the revisions in steps 1, 2 and 3, because the story is still relatively fresh and I can see it becoming better and better as I revise.

Step 4. I let it rest again. I take at least a week in which I don’t touch or even look at the manuscript.

Step 5. I PRINT OUT the manuscript and read the chapters OUT OF ORDER, doing what is often referred to as a line edit. I read the chapters out of order to impede the flow of the story and keep myself from getting too involved so I can focus on the writing. I also don’t read more than a three or four chapters in a day to try to keep it fresh in my mind. If I read too long, I start to read like a reader and not an editor.

Step 6. I input all my changes and I run SEARCH/FIND for those words or phrases I know I have the tendency to overuse. I make replacements, noodle the story a little more on the computer and print out another hardcopy.

Step 7. Let it sit for a few days.

Step 8. Read through the sucker again, this time on a search and destroy mission for any remaining typos. I input any needed changes. By this time, other than fixing a typo, I can’t tell if I’m making the story better or just different.

Step 9. Let it sit. At this point it’s as good as I can make it and it’s ready to send to my editor. I really don’t want to look at the story again, but I reread it one more time before I send it.

And then before too long, I get her edits and I get to make more revisions!

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