My Twisted Writer Brain…

Four Easy Steps You *Must* Do For Your Best Ever Manuscript Edit

I’ll be the first to admit that editing my own work is not my strong point. I avoid it as long as I can and then jump in with both feet. The funny thing is, that once I begin I really enjoy tightening up the sentences, correcting the voice, and adding tension to the scenes.

During that kind of edit, I keep a coil bound notebook to make notes on every chapter. I’ll note down things like last names, dates, specifics like colors/shapes etc. mentioned, ages, names of schools—details that you don’t want to mix up later.

Consistency is important and I’ll check on details as I do these initial edits.

When I finish a manuscript I try and let it marinate for a while. Even if it’s only for a couple of weeks, this allows me to step back and separate from it for a while. If you can leave it for a month or longer you’ll be able to see it with fresh eyes as the memory fades and you’ll have moved onto other writings.

Have you ever read your work and thought to yourself…Wow..that’s actually pretty good! Don’t you love that? It’s so validating and satisfying to enjoy your own work.

This editing method is simple and will help you find more errors. Have fun.

Step One

Okay. Your manuscript has been closed for two months. Now choose a day to sit down and read your book from start to finish.

In this part, I don’t want you to mark anything up on the manuscript, but if you can make short notes re: an inconsistency/ holes/mistakes/questions, then note it quickly along with the page number and continue reading.

Read it to enjoy it. Do you remember it all?

Chances are that it’s better than what you think. Let those positive vibes ignite and energize you.

Step Two

There are a few parts in this step.

First: make sure you have a red pen and a back up if the first one dies. Make sure it’s a fine tip so it doesn’t glop over everything.

Second: print your manuscript out onto paper. This can be done at home, but will take a lot of ink and paper, or you can download it onto a stick and take it to a print shop like Staples. Remember, this is an investment in yourself and your craft.

Third: Go through the entire paper manuscript and mark up the changes/edits that are required. Use the red pen. It’s not only symbolic but is effective and easy to see. Also have some stickies around where you can easily mark the page.

Mark up that paper manuscript like its nobody’s business. Be brutal. Don’t hesitate to put a line through whole paragraphs or make notes in the margins.

Use any notes from step one to fill in those gaps and answer those questions. Make sure if you say that Mary’s eyes are blue in chapter three that they haven’t magically changed to hazel by chapter twenty.

When you reach the end of your paper and pen exercise your pages should be well marked up.

Step Three

There are three parts to this step.

First: Take your electronic copy of your manuscript and rename it a draft. I usually name it Draft That I Printed. Kind of dorky I know, but alas it does the trick.

Make a copy of that draft and rename it something like Draft For Red Pen Edits. If you number your drafts, even better.

Okay, now you have a the same draft (now renamed) that you printed out. That one will be on your screen while the one you marked up in red is on your desk (I put all the pages in a binder).

Second: Take all the changes you did on the paper and now apply them to your electronic file.

As you’re doing this pay attention to what you’re doing to ensure that deletions are complete and that chunks aren’t missing in error.

This can be a really satisfying edit because you’ve done the work already and are transposing it onto the manuscript. It should go relatively quickly but don’t rush the process and if you have questions or doubts, make a note on the paper draft so you can return later.

Step Four

This is the final step but one of the most missed steps.

By now you should have that clean draft that you copied over, all edited from the red-pen paper edit.

Believe me, there will still be errors. The next step will help eliminate many of them. Take your time.

You’re going to read your entire manuscript out loud. Yes, the entire thing.

When you read aloud the words and sentence structures will feel different. You can’t fool the spoken word.

If you read a sentence and it feels awkward in your mouth–change it. If you find yourself automatically changing the words in speech, then change them on the page too.

If a sentence or word is misplaced you’ll trip as you read. Fix it right then and there.Then read it out loud again. You’ll be able to hear the cadence or lack there of, the punctuation, and the dialogue.

Reading your manuscript aloud is not a step to be skipped or ignored.

Questions? Just ask.

Happy Editing. But remember, there may still be problems with the manuscript. Things like voice, tension, or the story itself. But with this four step method you’ll be more likely to catch errors than you would by just reviewing on the computer.


Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed my post. Please like and comment. Questions are always welcome too. And ensure you don’t miss anything you should follow below.

5 thoughts on “Four Easy Steps You *Must* Do For Your Best Ever Manuscript Edit”

    1. Well, you taught me how to edit–way back in the day. You know I would do all but one…and that was the printing off…. it makes all the difference in the world. Without it the process doesn’t work as well. I guess they call you an Editor for a reason! Smart!! Having the four steps together make ALL the difference in the world. I’m still in the middle of dev edits which then goes to Norma and I begin another full ms edit.
      You’re amazing. Happy Editing!

  1. Great SELF-editing process, especially for copy-editing and/or proofreading shorter items like blog posts or newspaper articles or short stories. For longer pieces, or for pieces that are going to be entered in contests or sent to an agent or publisher for consideration, where the overall quality of the piece will be important, not just the copyedit or proofreading level, it is important to have “fresh eyes and mind” (ideally, a good editor; or at least, some good beta-readers or a good quality feedback group) also check for big issues like plot holes and characterization, and for style issues–things we as writers may “miss” as the story or article is in our mind as we read, so we many not notice these kinds of items. 🙂

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