How to Edit Your Manuscript

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Congratulations! You’ve completed your manuscript. That is truly a feat to behold. Give yourself a moment to take it in and appreciate your achievement. But then get your mind right because the job is not yet done. In fact, it might be far from over. It’s now time to edit your manuscript. No matter how talented, how brilliant, or how organized you are as a writer, editing is a crucial step in the writing process. Editing takes the structure of a story and turns it into a book that other people might actually want to read. For tips on how to edit your manuscript, read on.

Take a Breather

It’s nearly impossible to look at your baby objectively at first. It takes so much to get to The End that the thought of hitting “cut” on paragraphs, pages, or chapters can make you feel sick. You remember—way too well—how much time and effort it took to create those pages. Dumping them seems insane. And furthermore, it feels unnecessary. After all, why would you have written them if they weren’t meant to be in there in the first place? Come to think of it, you are artist. Don’t you know best?

Take it from me. You need a breather. You can’t look at your recently completed manuscript objectively. You might have read the first five pages seven hundred times. You can’t see what’s good, bad, or neutral anymore. Taking a step back. Let it rest. If you possibly can, give it at least a week to marinate. Fresh eyes will help you see poor word choice, lack of character arc, stilted dialogue, too much exposition—all the things that need to go.

Get a Second Opinion

Due to all the problems I already enumerated about how difficult it is to look at your own manuscript objectively, it helps to get a second opinion. The best second opinion is from someone who is honest and can explain your manuscript’s deficiencies in a way you can understand and accept.

Sometimes your main character doesn’t come across as snarky; she’s unlikable. Your powerful hero is domineering. You info dumped in chapter two, and it got boring. The middle hundred pages dragged. Your ending wasn’t satisfying. Your protagonists all sounded the same. The secondary characters were flat and uninteresting. These are all problems that you could have. However, you need to hear it in a way that you can also see it. If your beta reader merely criticizes, not only will your feelings be hurt, but you also might not be able to internalize genuine but fixable issues.

Map Your Arcs

I hired a professional editor for the first time last summer to help me identify the blind spots I knew I had in my current manuscript. My agent liked it, and it got positive feedback from the publishing houses but no offers. I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money, but I also wanted to invest in this particular idea, and I determined I was going to do all I could for this manuscript. My editor ended up showing me a flaw that I can’t believe I didn’t see myself. The flaw was that my main character didn’t have as much emotional growth as she needed to have.

You could do this yourself by mapping your characters’ arcs against the plot. Do they rise and fall in tandem? Do they even occur at all? Could they have more emotional punch? If you include page numbers in your post-facto plotting, you should be able to see if it’s taken too long for a new turning point to happen. That could also help you identify saggy spots or to opportunities for growth. It’s basically reverse engineering the story, and it should make your weak points clear.

Obviously grammar, word choice, etc. is important too, but these editorial issues aren’t as important as story. Give yourself time to make the big edits you need to make so that your manuscript is as strong as it can possibly be. Even though you probably just want to be done already, not editing until your work is polished means not giving yourself and your story the strongest chance for success. After all your effort, honor it by presenting the world with your absolute best.

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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