Tricks for Editing Your Novel

I’m currently in the throes of revising my YA novel DRAWN, and, wow, working with a 300+ page manuscript really presents some challenges.  Editing on the hard copy has a nice safe feel to it, but it quickly gets messy, and, let’s face it, eventually you have to go to the computer copy anyway.  But make those changes on your computer copy and they feel done.  What if you change your mind? What if you mess everything up? Gah.

Of course this is where the computer serves us all so well. I truly feel for those poor old sods back in the day who had to write in long-hand by candlelight.  Get too close to a flame, and there goes a year or two worth of writing.  So we have some definite advantages.

With this set of revisions, I’ve been targeting specific characters in my novel, and specific threads of plotline that need tightening.  So the first thing I did was to use “save as” and rename the manuscript as something like: “DRAWN – new mother scenes.”  Then by opening the newly saved file and working in that instead of in the original file, I knew that if I royally screw up everything, it was still there saved for me safe and sound.

Next I tracked my changes in the manuscript.  If you’ve never done this, you’re in for a treat.  Just click on “Tools” then “Track Changes,” and select “Highlight Changes” and check off “Track Changes While Editing.”  Now every single change you make here will show up.  I LOVE this option while editing.  It helps me see where I’ve altered things, and I can go back to these sections and easily change my mind, or even revert back to what I had there by highlighting the change, and going through TOOLS and using “Accept or Reject Changes.”  With a huge manuscript, it’s so important to see the changes in process, and to be consistent. Using the “Edit” and “Find” tabs, I can quickly find a key phrase I’m looking for, or a character’s name, and edit from there.

If your changes are major, your manuscript’s tracked edits may end up being more confusing than helpful.  What Im doing with DRAWN, since my revisions revolve around a few very different issues, is I tackle one type of revision at a time. Here’s how it has been going…First I create a copy of the manuscript labeled for that issue. Next I track the edits for that issue in that copy. When I’m satisfied with those edits, I then go into the original manuscript and make the changes in that…if there are a lot of edits, I’ll print out a copy of the edited version and use the highlighted changes there to guide me. I save the revised original version, and back it up, including emailing a copy of it to myself.  And that’s one issue tackled…on to the next.

I know, it’s a bit clunky. And I could just say “accept all changes” on my revised copy, but I’m still not sure if I’m keeping them all yet (that’s why I track the changes in my original manuscript too…until all my revisions are done, then I’ll keep ’em). If anyone has a better idea, I’d love to hear it.  Personally, I feel there is a clarity to dealing with one plot thread or character change at a time. You’re sure to follow through the whole manuscript and thoroughly complete the change everywhere it’s needed.  And it’s truly helpful to then check that revision off the mental to-do list.

Sometimes there is a particular scene that tortures me. I like so much of what I have, yet I know it isn’t working just yet.  You’ve probably heard the phrase “kill your darlings.”  When we fall in love with our writing, we are in very dangerous territory. Writers must be ruthless with their words, cutting, slashing, sacrificing all for the sake of the story.  When I come across the fateful torturous scene, even a copy of it within the context of the story paralyzes me. How can I possibly change it? It seems to BELONG. Here’s what I’ve discovered: if I just copy that scene and put it into another file, I’m much more willing to butcher it to save the story. Remember, the original is safely saved, so no real risk, right?

So yesterday I did that with a scene, and it helped a little. But I was still getting tangled up in what was there.  The only solution was a blank page. The old-fashioned rewrite it from scratch. And when the computer screen bedeviled me, I turned to a sheet of paper, and a pen.  All that was missing was the candlestick.

All technology aside, story is about ideas, and words, and creativity.

One final thought…when I finish my first draft of a novel, I set it aside for a while, and then I use Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK to help me edit the draft. The exercises in there ask the big questions about plot lines, tension, character development, etc. Great stuff.  Check it out.

11 thoughts on “Tricks for Editing Your Novel

  1. Robert Heinlein’s Rules:
    1. You must write
    2. You must finish what you start
    3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order
    4. You must put your story on the market
    5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold
    Would that we could all feel comfortable with #3

    For the rest of us, there is this:
    WHEN IS THE REWRITE FINISHED? If you think your story has a problem, it probably does. When readers have no concerns with the storyline, you are getting there… No technical errors: GO.

    • Good stuff, Michael.

      I know a lot of writers (most of my published friends) who still find corrections they felt they should have made AFTER their novels were published. Just goes to show that revisions can go on and on forever. At some point we have to step away and move on.

      Best of luck with your own writing,

  2. So glad I found your page Marie. Great advice and thanks for recommendiing that Donald Maass workbook, sounds like it would be most useful.

    • Hey Agatha82,

      Great to see you here! You are going to LOVE Donald Maass’ workbook. So many published authors I know use it in their revision stages.

      Happy writing,

  3. I save documents in a similar way, but often use dates, that way I know the most recent “version” of my work-in-progress. Your post was a while ago, so I hope you are still working on or have finished it. If so congrats! But either way-Keep Writing!

    • Hey Paper Tiger Press,

      Yeah, sort of finished, but that’s the torture of editing…it keeps going on until the book is printed, and sometimes even then you think, hm, what if I changed that?

      I’m onto other projects, always writing! Wish you the best with your work.


  4. Wow, I never thought to do edits based on a type or break it down specifically. That makes it seem so much more doable!

  5. Pingback: Editing tricks « writersobsession

  6. I know this was posted over two years ago, but just wanted to say “thanks!” 🙂 I don’t know why I didn’t think of using ‘track changes’ for my manuscript that has become difficult to organize; as a former legal secretary for a couple decades, I should have thought of it on my own! LOL Hope your writing is going well.

    • So glad this was helpful. That’s the fun of writing these sort of articles, and why I index ’em on my “For Writers” page – the info can always be helpful!

      My writing is going well. Just started writing a new novel myself. Good luck with your own writing and revising!


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