A Simple Editing Tip

I shared this tip on Twitter yesterday and people seemed to find it helpful, so I thought I would pass it along here in the newsletter as well. It’s a very simple tip but it has helped me many times when I’ve been feeling stuck or unmotivated to work on a piece of a manuscript that has been giving me trouble. When I'm working as an editor on a chapter draft that I know needs developmental help and find myself getting overwhelmed by all the moving parts, here's what I do:

  • On a separate pad of lined paper, I list the chapter's content passage by passage. Every new idea gets a line, and I note the page numbers and section breaks as I go. (Often each line on my sheet = a paragraph in the manuscript, but sometimes an idea spans a few paragraphs.)

  • The clean paper is key because it helps me clear my head from the actual MS draft, which is covered in my notes. You could do this on a blank computer document too, but I personally like switching to the tactile experience of writing on paper when I’m feeling stuck. As an extra motivational trick, I make sure to have fun colored pens on hand.

  • As I write out the chapter's contents on the pad of paper, I use a different color pen to make notes on what's going to happen to each passage as I go. I’ll write things like “need to add clarification here,” “cut repetition here,” “could move these three passages up to the end of section 2,” and then draw arrows from the instructions to the content passages of the draft that they apply to (which are written in the first color ink).

  • I can usually fit a chapter-length piece on one or two sheets of lined paper. When I’m done, I end up with a developmental plan that I can then implement step-by-step if I’m doing the hands on editing myself or write up narratively to share with my client if I’m doing a manuscript assessment + revision plan.

You can use this technique on your own drafts too, whether you’re working on a book chapter, an article, or a shorter document with several different elements, such as a book proposal. You could even use it to developmentally edit a full book manuscript. If you’re dealing with a manuscript of that size, you may want to limit the lines of content to the really big ideas so you’re just dealing with large chunks of text, rather than writing out each paragraph-level idea. Once you’ve got the big chunks revised and moved to where they need to be, you can tackle the chapters down to the paragraph level. I hope this tip helps you the next time your manuscript revisions have you feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated!