Editing Tip #62

Where Do I Start?

starting line

Starting Line. Image from Flickr user “tableatny.”

I have been approached by a few NaNoWriMo winners about what to do now that they have this mass of writing (1st draft nearly finished). Many have some of the manuscript handwritten and the rest typed – because as you may or may not know when pushing yourself to write 50,000 words in 30 days you’ll write anywhere, any time, on anything you can get your hands on just to get your word count down for the day…

That can leave your manuscript in a bit of a mess.

Even if you’re not a NaNo participant, you may be a pantser when it comes to writing and this situation could reflect your usual writing style. Regardless, it can be daunting to look at the bits and pieces, chunks and mouthfuls that make up your book.

Now you may be thinking, “How do I even begin to self-edit this disaster?” But don’t give up!

Follow these helpful steps:

Dive in with a positive perspective… get excited about putting the pieces together.

Start at the beginning. Slowly go through and add your handwritten work into your typed manuscript. *It’s okay if you feel the need to write in a transitional scene or phrase as you go or cut stuff that doesn’t make sense.

Don’t delete what’s you’ve cut… save it in an ‘Ideas’ file that’s easy to find later.

As you re-read what you’ve written, make notesneed to flush this out, dialogue is weak here, too much back story there, missing info at this point… don’t make these ‘corrections’ while you’re piecing together your scattered work (it will get confusing and overwhelming fast).

Once your entire manuscript is typed and in some semblance of order (things could always change as you edit – remember to keep an open mind) go back and respond to your notes.

Put it away for at least one month. Yes. Do it. You do not need to finish it right this second – trust me, it’s better this way πŸ˜‰

During the next 30-odd days you are going to think about your book. You’re going to read up on self-editing best practices and you’re going to choose 5-7 best practice suggestions to focus on when you return to your book at the end of the month.

Also during the next 30 or so days you’re going to read for and/or edit friends and colleagues’ works – they could be short stories, chapters from a manuscript, or even an entire novella depending on how much spare time you have! The point is, practice helping others – it will make you a better self-editor.

At the end of the month away from your book, reread your hit list of editing points (keep it close while you work) and start editing at the beginning. **I say start at the beginning even though you know exactly what you want to do with chapter 17, because by the time you work your way up to Ch. 17 you may have more work to do… it’s true. Just jot down your ideas for that chapter so you don’t forget them and start from the beginning πŸ™‚

As you work through your manuscript you might wonder why certain things are missing… remember that ‘Idea’ file of things you cut when you pieced the book together? Look at it and see if what you need is there. If it is, great… put it where it really needs to go. If it’s not there, add it.

Finally, once you’ve self-edited for content and consistency let your word processor advise you where you may have spelling mistakes, make sure all your chapters are numbered in order (and named if that’s your style) and do a general prettying up of your manuscript.

Now, you’re ready to venture into the realm of the 3rd Draft! Beta Readers πŸ˜€

You may spend almost as much time self-editing as you did writing the book but that’s okay. You need to know your characters inside and out and have that plot nailed down like nobody’s business before you let friends and colleagues go through it as potential readers and amateur editors.

On the flip side, this is also the time to consider hiring a professional editor for a content edit if it’s in your budget to do so. We editors do this for a living and likely will catch more than your best friend or writing buddy will. We also know what publishers are looking for – now, if that’s not your goal (being traditionally published) at the very least we can help you tighten everything up.

Good luck with your messy manuscripts and happy editing!

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Categories: Editing

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6 replies

  1. Great article. While I didn’t hit the 50k goal, I did get two novellas started. When I first typed them, I didn’t break them into chapters, just scenes. I have already gone through and broken them into chapters and discovered it wasn’t as hap-hazardly written as I thought. Only had to move one scene. The novella is only 1/2 written, but I already know a few places where I have to add a lot of content and transitions. It will be put aside for quite awhile as I have more research to do and it’s part of a series – the last book – so I won’t actually be publishing it for some time to come.

    I already know where my editor is hanging out. πŸ™‚


  2. Good tips! I’m almost to this stage, and this is helpful advice.


  3. Nice post. It would be good for me as I edit/write.


    • Having a checklist of things to keep in mind helps organized scattered thoughts/ideas. We often know what we want to achieve and where we should be taking our work but actually seeing one step and then another to follow gives us a life-line in all the hustle and bustle of creation. Happy writing/editing!

      Liked by 1 person

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