I admit I’m not much of a housekeeper. I know mothers that excel at having a well-kept home. I’ve stopped by to drop my kids off at scheduled play dates or even unexpectedly to sell Girl Scout cookies and have been invited into homes that are often tidy and beautiful. I do clean, but more often than not, there are toys strewn about, and my office/playroom is well…just plain messy.
One rainy afternoon, I was mumbling under my breath while cleaning out closets when my hubby walked in and said, “What’s the big deal? Think of it as cleaning up your manuscript after the first draft.” I dropped the trash bag stuffed with kids’ clothes intended for Goodwill, and looked up at him in shock. As an engineer and introvert, he’s definitely on the quiet side, but sometimes he blurts out very helpful and insightful things. I started thinking and came to the conclusion he was totally on point.
So what do cleaning the house and editing your book really have in common? It turns out to be a whole lot.
Read the entire manuscript in one sitting
Get the feel for the story. Resist marking the pages and making notes in the margins. Just read for the content. This will reveal overwriting, sections that need more explanation, or unfinished plot points. It’s similar to walking through the house and noting what needs to be cleaned, which closets need to be organized, and how big of a task you have ahead of you.
Go back and start deep editing
I think of this as thoroughly cleaning each room, but one room at a time. I start with the first chapter and go from there, but I know authors who can start editing in the middle of the book. Do what works best for you. But however you edit, begin with a chapter and work with it until it shines. As for the first few pages, they are critical. You have a very short word count to capture an agent, editor, or reader’s attention. Avoid back story—whether through flashbacks or prologues. The goal is to keep them reading. Here are the four overall editing tips that I find most helpful:
- Show and don’t tell.
Writers have heard this a thousand times. Go back and make sure you’re following this rule. Engage the reader emotionally by showing the character’s feelings. Instead of telling the reader your character is scared, describe it. What is she feeling? Thinking? Readers will begin to care about the character and what happens to her next.
- Avoid passive voice when possible. Here’s an example:
She was bitten by the vampire. PASSIVE
The vampire bit her. ACTIVE
- Is there excessive backstory?
This is similar to overwriting. If you find a backstory dump, then try weaving the information throughout the manuscript. Readers don’t need to learn everything about a character’s history in the first chapter.
- When in doubt, cut it!
Don’t be afraid to cut the word count. It’s just like cleaning out your closet. If it doesn’t belong, or you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it!
Grammar and spelling
This step is like walking through your house to see if you’ve missed anything before you expect company. I know we are all good writers who know how to spell and use proper grammar, but I have found that even the best of us miss simple errors. Don’t forget to use grammar and spell check. You just might be surprised by what it finds. Often we type a character’s name differently by accident, and spell check might find this. Also, double check the use of those pesky commas, colons, and semi-colons. Of course, spell check won’t find all the errors, but that’s where the next step comes in handy.
Now invite friends over to your clean house to take a look at all your hard work. In other words, have a beta reader read your manuscript. It’s best if it’s not your mother, but if your mother is good with grammar, then by all means have her take a look. I have a wonderful critique partner who happens to be a former English teacher. I swear the manuscript is clean, yet she often finds simple errors I’ve missed.
Make those final touches to your manuscript and send that baby off to your editor or the agent of your dreams. Then sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy that clean house before it gets messed up again. In other words, until the next story idea pops in your head…
So tell me how often do you clean? Or if you’re a writer, how do you edit? What works best for you? I’d love to hear from readers, so please share! One lucky commenter will win a copy of IN THE BARRISTER’S CHAMBERS. Good luck!
You can find me at: