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Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Forest and the Trees - Editing Your Own Manuscripts

Please welcome guest blogger Rebecca York

At the beginning of my career, I used to write slowly and then edit a lot. About ten years ago I discovered I could write fast and then do the same amount of editing.

My first drafts are very rough. Left to my own devices, I’d probably write too many sentence with subject-verb construction, followed by more subject-verb. Honestly, that’s the way I think. Another one of my fun traits is grabbing one word and running it into the ground.

I envy writers with beta readers who go over their manuscripts and give advice. I don’t really have anyone I trust to do that. But over the course of more than 100 books, I’ve learned that there’s a very effective way to self-edit. I give myself time to put the book away for a few weeks or months and think about another project. When I get it out again, I’m far enough removed from the text that it feels like someone else wrote it, and I can be very objective about what it needs. Not to mention, I’m often pleasantly surprised to find that scenes I thought were crap are actually pretty good.

Since my handwriting is beyond horrible, I write my first draft on the computer. And I start each day editing what I wrote the day before because that pulls me back into the story. It also gives me the chance to fix things that I realize immediately are wrong. If I’m writing a fight scene or a danger scene or a love scene, I usually get the action down. Then I have to go back and fill in things I missed. More action? More emotion? More detail? In other words, I think of my first pass through a scene as the bones–that will need to be fleshed out.

After I’ve written the first three chapters of a book, I may go back and edit. For several reasons. First, I know the characters better so I can give the reader a better idea of who they are. Second, I always put in too much detail at the beginning, and I know I’m going to have to cut ruthlessly.

I might also stop and edit the first hundred pages of a book, particularly if I’ve been forced to put it down, perhaps to do a proposal or to deal with copyedits or galleys that have come back from a publisher. Then I’ll start writing again, hopefully until I’ve finished the book. After I’ve got a complete draft, I’ll start editing the whole book from the beginning again. I always do this on the screen because I know there will be a lot of cleaning up.

After my first screen edit, I do two to four more edits–on paper. Printing out the manuscript always lets me see things that I miss when I’m only working on the computer. Each time I edit, I put the changes back into the file. When I’m done, I print out the whole manuscript clean and start again.

I’ve been asked whether I add details to a manuscript when I edit or cut. The answer is–both. Whichever it needs.

What kinds of things do I look for and question when I’m editing? Here are a few examples.


g rid of the same or a similar word used twice in the same sentence.


After changing into the running shoes, she reached to shrug off her suit jacket, then changed her mind.


After changing into the running shoes, she reached to shrug off her suit jacket, then hesitated.


Streamlining my work.


But as she walked, she heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel shoulder behind her. Too bad she was dressed for a business meeting. Still, she started to run, wondering if there was any chance of getting away from whoever was stalking her.


As she walked, she heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel shoulder behind her. Although she was dressed for a business meeting, she started to run, wondering if there was any chance of getting away from whoever was stalking her.


Sometimes I’m only making small changes that allow the text to flow better for me.


Eugenia had said their heritage was everything, and that had always been the way Sophia had lived, without questioning her loyalty to the greater good.


Eugenia had said their heritage was everything, and Sophia had always lived without questioning her loyalty to the greater good.

Additional things I consider:


Is this sentence too long and complicated. Would it be better if it were broken into two sentences.


How does this sentence relate to the one before and after. Is there a logical flow through each paragraph and from one to the other?


Can I cut some of this dialogue? Does it sound realistic?


Do I need this sentence at all? Did I say the same thing twice here?


Have I gotten trapped in an information dump?


Am I using past perfect too much? If I’m in a flashback, I should start it in past perfect, then switch to past tense.


Do I have passive sentences that can be made active without sounding stilted?

While I’m combing through sentences and words, I’m also thinking about larger issues in my book.


Do I need to add more detail to this action scene to make more of it?


Do I need this scene? Does it advance the plot?


Is the action here believable?


Would this character really behave this way, or am I jerking him around for the sake of the plot?


Is there enough threat and risk in this scene. Enough tension?


Have I worked in the setting and the back story so they don’t intrude on the scenes?


Do we know enough about the hero and heroine? Do we like them?


Have I kept the hero and heroine on page together as much as possible?


Do they grow and change enough during the course of the story?


Have I made my secondary characters interesting?


Is the villain a worthy opponent for the hero and heroine? Is he believable? Do we understand his motivation?


Does the story make logical sense? Did I say something on page 18 that turns out not to be true on page 218?


Are my hero and heroine thinking about the same things over and over? Do I have too much of what I call "wundeling." (Characters wallowing in thoughts.)


Are the issues I’m dealing with big enough? Do I need to add more meaning to the story?


How am I conveying information? Am I showing or telling?


Did I gradually unwind my plot, giving more and more information as it’s needed?


Did I make sure that I haven’t introduced a problem and solved it in the same chapter.


Did I keep the plot moving from crisis to crisis so that there’s no "slow" section of the book.


Did I end this chapter in the right place? Should I have cut it off sooner, or should I have gone on for another beat?


If I spring a twist on the reader, is it believable?


Is my action climax big enough and satisfying enough?


Will my romance climax gratify the reader?

Notice that I haven’t talked about editing for grammar, spelling and typos. I went to school in the generation where they drummed grammar into you, and I’m good at it. But I can’t spell my way out of a paper bag. And I don’t see typos, because I’m dyslexic and I read what should be there, not what is actually on the page. So I leave the proof reading to my husband, who can spot a misspelled word from across the room.

Also, I don’t have an actual checklist like the one I’ve given you here. (Or maybe I do NOW.) I just start working on the sentences and paragraphs while I’m thinking about what would improve my story in the larger sense. But I’ve tried to convey the kinds of things I think about as I’m editing my novels, and I hope I’ve given you something to think about in your own fiction.

USA Today best-selling novelist, Rebecca York (aka Ruth Glick) is the author of over one hundred books including more than 50 romantic suspense novels and 20 romances. Her MORE THAN A MAN is this year’s winner of the RT Best Harlequin Intrigue award.

KILLING MOON was a launch book for Berkley’s new Sensation Romance imprint in June 2003. Her first Berkley novella was in CRAVINGS, with Laurell K. Hamilton. DAY OF THE DRAGON will be published by Berkley in December 2010. For many years, she has also written Harlequin Intrigue’s popular 43 Light Street series. The next is GUARDING GRACE, July 2010.

Her many awards include two RITA finalist books, two Lifetime Achievement Awards from Romantic Times, five NJRW Golden Leaf Awards and a Prism Award.

A former University of Maryland English instructor, Ruth has taught Writing Popular Fiction and Romance Writing at Howard Community College. She has participated in numerous radio and T.V. interviews.

My July release is GUARDING GRACE (ISBN: 978-0373694822), one of my 43 Light Street books for Harlequin Intrigue. Like my other recent Light Street books, it has strong paranormal elements.

I came up with the title because it's a Bodyguard of the Month book, and I wanted a strong tie-in. It begins when Grace Cunningham witnesses the death of a prominent man. Is it really murder, and why is his staff so anxious to cover up the facts? As soon as she escapes from the scene of the crime, Grace knows she’s on the run from the bodyguards of the murdered man. And from his brother, private detective Brady Lockwood. At first he’s sure she’s part of a murder conspiracy. Yet Grace has an even more startling secret, one she fears will send Brady running from her. Can she and Brady uncover a massive conspiracy–and save their own lives from a man who’s been killing innocent victims for years?


randomfreshink said...

Love your books, particularly the paranormal element ones. And no wonder they are so good--you work very hard to make exellence.

Shannon D.

Rebecca York said...


Almost everything I'm doing at the moment is paranormal. Even my Intrigues.

Lynn Romaine said...

Your books were some of the first RS books I found (I discovered I loved RS late - age 55) and I value what you have to say. I'm definitely going to do hard copy edits which I have not done - even with 15 edits of last book, I forget to print them off and read them on real paper. Thanks - judi

Diane Gaston said...

Great examples and checklist, Rebecca! Very helpful. It should make a great workshop, too.

lynnrush said...

Wow. These are great questions you pointed out for us to ask ourselves. Awesome post!

Kathy said...

Thanks REbecca for showing us the way. I took a self editing class but I left it feeling much more confused. I do find that if I go back, you almost have to anyway, and reread what I wrote yesterday I can pick up the thread and run faster with it.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

This is so helpful, both for new writers and for those of us who have been writing for many years.
Thanks for sharing. Many more years of success.

Lisa Kessler said...

Great Blog!

Thanks for sharing great questions to ask as I edit!!!

Lisa :)

Janine said...

Thanks for this awesome description of your editing process.

My process is similar, but I also use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard to help me find the problem areas like the overused and repeated words, info dumps, etc. It really helps me me see what is on the page, rather than what I think is on the page :-)

Dawn Chartier said...

Great information. Thank you for sharing this with us. Great idea about putting the ms away for a little while.

Dawn Chartier

義珊義珊 said...


Lina Gardiner said...

Dear Ruth,
Do you ever sit down to edit and everything feels wrong? That happens to me sometimes. That is a day, or a few hours of the day that I take a break from writing.

Rebecca York said...

Mostly by the time I've written it, it makes sense to me.

Monti said...

Well done! I think you do have a workshop proposal. Amazing that you have written over 100 books now. I recall how in awe I was at an RWA conference when they announced something about Nora Roberts having over 100 books. Now I can be in awe of you as well!


Marley Delarose, Author said...

Thanks for the sharing your advice on editing, Rebeccca.

陳韋夏陳韋夏益東富益東富 said...


Mary Marvella said...

You always say the right things. Thanks!