Housekeeping and Editing…Two Challenging Tasks!

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.

Beta readers

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.

Final touches

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!

Tina Gabrielle


 You can find me at:

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  1. Jenna Blue

     /  January 6, 2014

    Great analogy, Tina! I would never have thought of it (yay, hubs!), but you are so right. The only thing I think you missed is motivation! ; ) Just like cleaning my house, I really have to muster up some motivation to start editing. It’s both overwhelming and frustrating, but once I finally force myself to dive in, I feel accomplished and certainly the ms and the house are definitely better for it in the end! : )

  2. You’re right! One of my New Year’s resolutions is to find the motivation to thin out my filing cabinets (which are crammed with tons of older papers) as well as to finish and edit my current work-in-progress. Any tips for motivation?

  3. I am one of those writers who embraces developmental edits…and maybe this is because I have been fortunate to work with editors who are very skilled at pointing out weaknesses/flaws in my manuscripts. Sadly, I never eagerly anticipate cleaning my house, or cleaning out cramped filing cabinets and drawers. I’m still looking for how to get motivated with that…

  4. I’ve worked with both and definitely prefer agents and editors who are skilled at editing too. It’s always best to have a skilled editor point out plot flaws early on. As for cleaning/organizing, I guess I’m not the only one who dreads going through those crammed filing cabinets!

  5. I think the state of my house these days would horrify most people. I do try, though! Kudos to your hubby for coming up with that analogy.

    I start at the top and work through until the end when I edit. Although I do edit the previous day’s words when I pick up each day. It helps me see where the story’s going and get back in the right frame of mind.

  6. Joan Savage

     /  January 6, 2014

    I think Beta readers are invaluable – both for those simple errors you mention and also a trusted take on the story itself – another pair of eyes to look it over.

    • I love my Beta reader (who is my long ago critique partner.) Her grammar is excellent, and she often finds errors I’ve missed to make the ms shine.

  7. Jaye Marie Rome

     /  January 6, 2014

    Love this analogy, Tina! I think I’m going to put a sign over my desk that says “Time to Clean House”!

    I admit, I used to be a LOT better at keeping my whole house clean. Trying to be Superwoman/Martha Steward/Giada de Laurentiis all in one. Then I had an epiphany…the dog isn’t going to stop shedding just because I cleaned. My kids preferred chicken nuggets (at least at the time). I stopped trying to be everything and all things to my family.

    As for editing…I admit I sometimes get bogged down in editing before the manuscript is done. JeRo helped me get over this a bit last year, since I was just pushing to get those 30K words written. Once the whole ms is done, then I go over it from the beginning. It’s hard for me to just do a read-through first, because I’m so hypercritical and I just have to make little grammatical corrections or tweak a scene if I find something I don’t like. Maybe that should be the next lesson I take from my awesome writer friends…do what we in theatre call a table read, just to get a feel for the story.

  8. I do edit the previous day’s work as well. It must be a writer thing. It’s too hard not to go back a few pages and make it even better.

  9. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  January 6, 2014

    What a great analogy, Tina! I just spent THREE nights cleaning out my home office. What a great feeling it is to walk in there to work. I should note I’m on an every other yearly office clean schedule!

    I tend to also read and edit the last bit of what I wrote to get back into the frame of mind for the project as well.

    Like Jaye, I have a hard time with the read through as well. I need to print the draft in order to hold myself in check.

  10. Good job spending three whole nights cleaning out your office! It always seems like such a daunting task, but I know I will feel much better when it’s done. Yes, it’s hard to do a read through without a red pen in my hand. It’s taken a lot of practice.

  11. Hi Tina. I love this analogy. I spent several hours before Christmas cleaning my dining room table (where I write) so the room could be used for Christmas dinner. Now, it’s getting messy again. But it’s hard when I don’t have a formal desk/writing spot (which I keep pointing out to my hubby).

    My approach for editing is to go through the MS for high-level stuff related to GMC. Along the way, if I find issues with grammar, wording, spelling, I’ll fix, but I don’t get hung up on it. I may go through this a couple times (with breaks between each reading). As you suggest, I’ll send out for input. At the same time, I’ll start the deep cleaning. I’m at that point now with my next MS. I have a list of things I always have to check for and start search through my MS. When I think it’s good, I’ll print and go through one last time before submitting to my editor.

    Thanks for sharing your process and providing helpful tips! Great debut post!

  12. I definitely prefer editing to housekeeping, but I like your analogy! There’s the time element, too. Do you have time for deep cleaning? Where is the time better spent–chapter 1 or chapter 12, or the living room or your kids’ bedroom? Is it worth it to spend 2 hours cleaning the play room when it’ll be messy again tomorrow? Similarly, are you spending too much time perfecting chapter 1 when your editor is going to come back and ask that you cut a scene?

    • Great to hear from you Anna! I never have time for deep cleaning. As for editing, I have spent too much time on a scene only to have my editor tell me it wasn’t essential to the plot and I should cut it. That was certainly hard to do at the time, but looking back it made the manuscript much better.

  13. Thanks Maria! I used to have a small corner in our bedroom before we moved. I now share an office/playroom. It’s often cramped, but I find late evenings are a good time to write without interruptions. Your editing process sounds a lot like mine. I’m looking forward to the upcoming NJRW writing challenge to get a lot more writing and editing finished.

  14. Hi Tina, Great post, and terrific timing! I like the advice about reading your manuscript from start to finish first. It’s so difficult to get a sense of the full story when you keep stopping to correct chapter upon chapter and scene upon scene. So glad you’ve joined the Femmes, too! Cheers, Michele


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