Editing My Manuscript


Photo credit: Linda LeBoutillier/Reaching for the Sky

Today is Monday, October 28, 2013.

I’m still in the Twin Cities today, but the Eckankar Worldwide Seminar is over, and one of the things I have promised myself to do, when I get home, is to further revise and edit the manuscript of a book that I have written with a friend of mine.  That’s the manuscript you see here, all printed out with huge margins and double-spaced for the convenience of an editor.

If you’re not a writer, you may think that editing has to do with correcting spelling and punctuation, but that’s the least of it.  What I’m thinking of doing, based on some excellent advice from a writer friend, is tearing apart the whole thing and re-writing it from the first-person perspective of my friend, whose later father this story is all about.  This will involve a lot of cutting, re-arranging, and re-writing from a different perspective.  If I hadn’t heard Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha, say that he had written his book three times, and that only on the third try did he hit upon the idea of writing a fictional memoir form a first-person perspective, I probably wouldn’t even have considered my friend’s advice, but she is right.  This will make the manuscript a lot shorter (a good thing), and it will give more consistency, uniformity, and veracity to the story.  Briefly, the story is about my friend’s father, who was a Nazi hunter after World War II.

I’m a member of a LinkedIn group for writers of historical fiction, and one of the group members, Carol Bodensteiner, posts some excellent articles for writers.  Her most recent effort discussed five ways for writers to edit their own manuscripts before an editor ever lays eyes on it.  First, she says a writer must absorb and act on beta reader feedback.  A “beta reader” is someone who is willing to read all or part of your manuscript before it ever gets published.  Finding beta readers is incredibly difficult, as most people don’t want to wade through a manuscript. and now I realize why authors are so effusive in their praise for their beta readers in the acknowledgements section of their books.  Many writers depend on the people in their writers’ circle to do this, but those of us who have written longer novels can’t expect people to read the whole thing in one go.  It took me about 4 years to have people read and critique the book, about 30 pages at a time.  There are only four people who have read the whole thing, and they all agreed with the one who suggested the “total re-write” that I am about to attempt.

Another thing that Bodensteiner suggests is to search and eliminate overused words.  I have done some of this, but once the major re-write is complete, I will do this again.  Bodensteiner suggests using a list of “echo words” by Sharla Rae for this purpose.  The overused word search will take some time, and as Bodensteiner says it is an “insanely tedious task.”   She says that even with the word search function, she could only research about a dozen words a day.  Having done this for a few words in my own manuscript, I know exactly what she means.

I plan to combine the search for overused words with a third suggestion of Bodensteiner – to read the entire manuscript out loud.   Reading aloud will also take time – Bodensteiner says she did only 50 pages a day.  I’ll bet she worked a solid eight-hour day doing that.  I wonder if she ever lost her voice.

Bodensteiner’s next piece of advice was to print out your manuscript, because seeing the words on paper is very different from reading them on a screen.  As you can see from the photograph, I have done this, but Bodensteiner says she printed hers out twice: once the way she would submit it to her editor, as a double-spaced Word document, and once formatted as though it was an actual book, using a different type face, and justified, single-spaced lines.  She says that the two formats “yielded dramatically different editing points.”   A point about printing: have you ever printed 300 or more pages on your printer all at once?  Most of you will say no.  I must warn you that you will need to have plenty of paper, because there are the inevitable printer malfunctions and some pages will have to be printed over.  And you will need plenty of spare ink so that you don’t have to interrupt the process to go to your local office supply store.  Those of you who have printers know how expensive ink and paper are.  The manuscript you see here is over 600 pages long, and I could only afford to print two copies for my four beta readers.

Bodensteiner’s last piece of advice is to remain open to making your manuscript better, but only to a point.  She quoted fellow writer Anne Lamott as saying, “You just sort of realize at some point your OCD has begun to hurt the work.”  That’s when a writer just needs to send it off to an editor, who will no doubt find other things to change.

Have I got an editor yet?  Nope, not for this book.  I don’t even have an agent, and that’s an important thing for an unknown writer like myself.  I’m hoping that this major edit will make it easier to find someone who really loves the story and who is willing to promote it to the right publisher.  🙂


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