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Thursday, June 10, 2010

When To Stop Editing

 Knowing when to stop editing and start sending their work out isn't easy for a lot of writers. It wasn't always easy for me. Many writers second guess themselves at every bend in the road to publication and because of it they may linger at the crossroads. Not only have I seen friends of mine caught at this crossroads, I've been caught there myself before.

The question is, how do you break the cycle and go down the right road? Or more importantly, how do you know when it's time to take that road to submission? Going it alone without help of any kind will almost always result in taking a left, right, or going back instead of forward. Or worse, it can result in going forward when your manuscript isn't ready. I've been guilty of both.

What do you do if you're going it alone as so many writers do? You've heard me say this before, attend conferences, workshps, retreats, any place where you can improve your craft. This will help build your confidence and prepare you so you will realize when you and your manuscript are ready. Can't afford to in this tight economy? Don't worry, there are other ways. Join a writer's group. Can't find one in your neighborhood? Join an online writer's community. Make friends there, start to assemble a critique group. I recommend Scribblerati but there are many great writers communities out there to choose from. With the advances in technology~email, Twitter, Facebook, Skype~you don't have to meet in person to have a critique group.

I have a wonderful critique group as many of you know, the Scribe Sisters, who help me in getting my manuscript polished and ready to go to my agent. Aside from them I have a five step editing process.

Step #1 A mini-edit. I handwrite everything first then put it in the computer that night or the next day and fix minor things like not enough description or grammar issues.
Step #2 Once the manuscript is completely done I do a read through edit of it on my computer and make note of any story issues I need to fix later. I also do a spellcheck and fix any grammar issues I see.
Step #3 I print the entire manuscript and take a red pen to it, fixing everything from character arc issues, to spelling, grammar, names, and description issues, to adding and deleting. Then I enter it into my computer.
Step #4 My critique group helps me with key chapters. The inciting incident, plot point 1, midpoint, plot point 2, and the climax. Then I enter changes into the computer.
Step #5 (this is a new one for me and if you don't do it, you MUST! I've discovered this step is worth the printed manuscript's weight in gold) I read the entire manuscript aloud to a beta reader/listener. And no, it is not my cat. I read to a person. You'd be surprised how much you catch this way when you're worried about what someone will think. I enter changes into the computer after every chapter I read.

Once I'm through this process I know I'm ready to send my manuscript out. Whatever method you use, just be sure you're moving forward. A stagnant writer is an unpublished writer.

19 comments:

  1. What great advice! I will definitely use step five--thanks, Heather!

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  2. Good tips! I follow most myself. I thought I was the only person who still did #1 (hand writing things). And #5 is something I learned in business. Our entire department could edit a piece, and after it was printed we would discover a typo. We started to read everything aloud. Two people, taking turns reading pages. Made a world of difference. Great advice!

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  3. You'll be glad you did Kari! It can be a pain to read it all aloud but you'll catch so much more that way. I was shocked!

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  4. I have a feeling writers like you and I Elizabeth are few and far between now days. Most people I know scoff at hand writing their work! So true about #5, and I discovered it totally by accident with my critique group.

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  5. Great post! I've always been a fan of processes, so these steps appeal to me--somehow make the disorderly orderly :-) And did I read that right? You hand write your scenes and then enter them into the computer?

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  6. I love the reading aloud part. In my crit group we always read the first few pages of what each person has submitted for that round. It's great hearing someone else read it too because you get where the accent falls in

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  7. Yep, you read that right Portia, I hand write my scenes first, then put them into the computer! I'm crazy, I know ;)

    That sounds exactly like how my crit group does it Lisa! Except that we each read our own work. I'm a huge believer in the importance of that step now!

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  8. Heather this is excellent advice. Thank you so much for your editing tips! They really help. I need to find an writing group in Seattle too thank you for that nudge in the right direction. Or is that the write direction?

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  9. My process sounds a lot like yours, though I don't print mine out. I've heard a few people suggest this so I may try it out before I query next time. Thanks!

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  10. Thanks for mentioning Scribblerati, in your post, Heather. We got new members as a direct result of it. :)

    I love your read the story aloud advice, too. I dictate mine into my iPhone chapter by chapter and then listen to it when I go to bed at night, with the lights out, like a bedtime story. It's the closest I can get to a consumer experience of my own novel.

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  11. You're welcome Karlene, and thank YOU for teaching me the importance of a great writing group!

    Theresa, printing out their entire ms isn't for everyone but I've found I love taking a red pen to it. I get a weird kind of reward in seeing the page marked up in red. Try it, you might like it!

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  12. Lia, I'm so happy to hear that my post brought members to Scribblerati! I love your site and would join myself if I could dig up the time... But I highly recommend it to everyone I know!

    I love that you dictate your novel to your iPhone, that's brilliant! I could do that while driving! Love it, thanks for the fabulous tip!

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  13. Great suggestions! I find it as hard to stop editing as Nanny Ogg (from Discworld) finds it hard to stop spelling banananana....

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  14. The early rounds of edits are actually sort of fun, at least for me it means corralling that mess of words I've thrown down into something that resembles a vaguely logical story.

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  15. Great tips, Heather! It _is_ hard to know when to stop--and I know if I'm not careful I can edit the heart out of a story.

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  16. I used to be the same way Lorel! That's why I had to make this five step process. It really helped me focus my editing sessions and give them a definitive purpose. And a step by step process gives me a sense of accomplishment every time I complete a step! Love that!

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  17. I love the whole process Alissa~I'm sick that way~but you're right, the earliest rounds are the most fun!

    Thanks Deb, and thanks so much for following! So true, when editing we run the risk of taking the heart out of our story. Which is exactly why it's so important to know when to stop!

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  18. Step Five is an essential one for me, Heather. It works if only visualizing sending what you're writing to a close friend.

    Passages that seemed artistic will just sound artificial then. Reading aloud is best. Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving such insightful comments. Roland

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  19. Me too Roland! I realized when I read aloud to someone I'm much more critical and catch things I didn't in the first four steps.

    And your welcome for the visit! I love your blog!

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