Editing Your Manuscript: Five Ways to Not Make it Worse

I’ve been editing and it’s the worst. A guy at my writing group asked how the book was going and I said, “I am editing and I hate it hate it hate it.” To which he replied, “Oh ok, so you’re iscribblesn the hating stage.” That made me feel better. I am in the hating stage. It’s not great here but guess what? It’s a stage. See? It says so right there in the name.

I am starting to see the end to this. I have been writing, or editing, more frequently which makes the whole process less painful. Imagine going to the gym and doing squats and, poor thing, lunges for the first time. Your legs will be sore for a good week. If you do it again the next week, they won’t hurt so much. If you wait two months, it’s going to be that painful every time. I know this. And yet, here I am. This time through the hating stage, I realized some things I want to write down to help me get through the next hating stage faster. The only way out is in and the sooner I accept that, the sooner I get out.

  1. I don’t care what you think, if you’re done with the first draft you’re only half way there. For this book, I thought my first draft was good. And it was good. It didn’t have any major plot holes or any characters that needed to be cut or added. But it’s still a first draft. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to make a first draft a book. This means it’s not going to be a week of laughing at my own jokes and changing “she said” to “she replied.”
  1. And because you’re only half way done, put that manuscript away just like Stephen King said. I read from King in On Writing that it’s really best to put the book away for a while after the first draft so that you can edit with fresh eyes. This is true. It’s also true because you just need a break from it. I have been writing this book for months, it would have helped to have stepped away for a while and thought about something else. But because I was convinced the editing wouldn’t take very long, I skipped all kinds of steps and now I’m having trouble editing because it’s hard and because I’m tired of the story right now.
  1. Never again edit and submit to agents at the same time. This was a crap idea. I thought I would send query letters out so that I could speed up the process of, you know, becoming a full-time writer who lives in Rome for part of the year and has a studio that overlooks the ocean. This does not help editing. Because when you submit letters, you receive rejections. And rejections, I’m here to tell you, do not help your editing process one bit.
  1. Now is not the time to stop bathing. I never stopped bathing. But while brooding over my work and feeling bad about my writing, I let others things go. Soon feeling bad about writing morphed into feeling bad about all things. So shave your legs, clean out the fridge, do your hair, make your bed, organize your desk, keep your shower clean, get your eyebrows waxed. There’s nothing like paying someone to pour hot wax on your face and rip it off to get you feeling good again.
  1. Read something nice. I just finished reading The Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot and it was hilarious. This was also a marked change to what I have been reading: The Mandibles, The City of Savages and other apocalyptic-esque books. I’m not saying Cabot single-handedly pulled me out of this slump, but it was nice to have something cheerful in my brain instead of thoughts like “who’s going to need children’s book in a nuclear holocaust anyway?”
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