Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Quick Tip to for Editing a "Cooled" Manuscript

You've finished writing your book's first draft and you've let it "cool" for a few days or weeks—or sometimes, in my case, years—and now you face that horrible slog known as editing.

The purpose of letting a manuscript cool is to put some distance between your creative process, the feeling of being fully enmeshed in a story, and your critical side, that part of you tasked with seeing your work through readers' eyes. Fail to give yourself enough time or mental distance from the moment of creation, and you won't be able to spot the flaws, the errors, the rough or slow patches. You won't be able to untangle the stuff that was purely in your head, should have made it to the page, and didn't.

Whenever I've let a manuscript cool and I'm eager to begin editing, eager being perhaps too strong a word, I'll dive in thinking I have my reader's hat squarely affixed to my head. I'll make note of the mood and the hook, our first introduction to the main characters, moving along at a brisk clip, and then it happens. My reader-self will stumble over a glitch, a poor word choice, an awkward sentence, or some murky element of the story that will definitely need rewriting.

No problem, I tell myself. I'll just do a quick fix. Let's cut that sentence there. Now we'll change that awful adjective, or get rid of it entirely. And what if I insert a phrase here?

I think it will only take a moment, but I'm almost always wrong. Before I know it, my reader's hat has been tossed in a corner, and writer-me has taken over again. I've come to a dead stop, and the experience of reading the manuscript from start to finish, the way a reader would access the story, has been aborted. I can't recover it unless I allow the manuscript to cool again.

To avoid this problem, I've created my own simple trick for noting and acknowledging a problem on the page, without breaking that reader's rhythm.

  1. Open up the manuscript you'll read and click anywhere on the first page.
  2. Type two letters that aren't commonly found next to each other in the English language, such as QZ or FW.
  3. Bolderize and color the letters so that they will stand out, like so: QZ
  4. Cut the two letters, removing them from the page and thus coping them to the computer's pasteboard.
  5. Begin reading. The moment you come across the first thing you want to fix, click your cursor near the problem word, phrase, or passage, and paste in the two letters, QZ.
  6. Keep reading and click-pasting. 
  7. When finished with your read-through, you can go back and make your edits. The bold, colored letters will help you spot the problem areas visually, while the odd letter choice can help you locate these via a search.
  8. When done with your editing, don't forget to remove your indicators. You should probably also Select All and change the entire file's type color back to the default black, just to be sure.
Yes, the same thing can be accomplished by using Track Changes in MS Word and inserting a note, but I find that even this action slows down my first read and takes me out of the moment. It feels more like a technique that should be used later as a line-editing tool.

Clicking and pasting is fast, I can do it without thinking, and it preserves the organic experience of that crucial "fresh read."


  1. Hmmmm...I like this idea! Thanks for sharing!

  2. My pleasure, Lauri. Just hit on the idea recently. Hope it works for you, too!


Thank you for commenting on my blog! In order to post you'll need to use the pull down menu under the text box to select "Name/URL," and enter your desired name when commenting. A URL is optional.