Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I recently finished writing Dishing Up Romance and began the laborious trek down editing and polishing lane. I must admit, I’m one of those chronic tinkerers who can’t seem to help myself mainly because I edit, then I edit what I edited, and . . . the list goes on and on. So how do you stop being a chronic tinkerer?
Put your manuscript away for a while, if time permits, and try not to look at it again for at least a month. When you pick it up again, you’ll be amazed at how quickly errors appear.
Before you actually get into the editing, give your manuscript a quick read-through fixing only those glaring errors you can see, and for God’s sake, if it reads smoothly enough, leave it alone. I know, I know, this takes a lot of practice because we fool ourselves into thinking we’re making it better. And sometimes we are, but there those are times when we’ve changed a sentence a gazillion times only to find out later it may be right back where we wrote it the first time.

Here are the things I look for when I’m reading over my manuscript:
• Did it grab my attention right away?
• Are my characters goals clearly identified up front?
• Is the pace good? Or did I add in too much minutia that bogs down the sentence and slows the pace?
• Are there descriptive gaps in my writing, or were the descriptions over done? Examples of that might be a scene where your heroine is getting into the car to drive somewhere. Let’s say you described it like this: she got behind the wheel, plopped her handbag on the passengers seat, fastened her seat belt, turned the key to start the engine and stepped on the gas? Was it necessary to give us that much information? I don’t think so. A much better version might be, she slid behind the steering wheel and revved the engine as she pulled away from the curb. See, you knew exactly what I was talking about without me going into so much detail, didn’t you? Edit out the words that serve no function.
• Tie up the loose ends. The other side of the coin on descriptions is not giving enough information. If it’s a setting that people wouldn’t know about, make sure you’re clear and concise—in other words, finish your thought so your reader is in the moment with the character looking at the same things she’s seeing.
• Did you use enough tags so your reader knows who’s talking? One would think if it’s only two people talking, you’d be able to figure out who’s speaking, but that’s not always the case. I’ve done this on a few occasions, and it makes me back up a few sentences to figure it out. To avoid doing this, you don’t even have to use the standard, “he said, she said. You can use a gesture such as: she picked up her glass of water and sipped—she cleared her throat—she brushed a stray strand of hair away from her face. This is what I do to avoid the boring standards.
• And here’s a biggie. Always make sure your sentences read with the action first, then the reaction. If you stop to think about it, that sounds like an easy thing to do—at least, one would think so. Yet there are times when we just write it out and after reading it back we wonder why it sounds funny. Reverse the order of words and see how it sounds.
• Does your dialogue sound realistic for your character?
• Are transitions smooth without gaps?
These are all things you should be looking for. And yes, word changes are important too, but try to use five words to describe it as opposed to twenty.
So how do you know when you should stop editing? My rule of thumb is this: When I feel as though I’m going to throw-up if I read it one more time—It’s time to stop!


Carolyn Brown said...

Wonderful post, Carolyn! Excellent check list!I'm with you on letting it "cook". I write and if I have time I set it on the back burner for a couple of weeks while I do something else then go back to it and when I stir it up again, I see things that need fixing.

Sandy Cody said...

Excellent advice, Carolyn. I'm also a tinkerer and have never read through a ms. that I couldn't find something to change. However, I've learned to save my first draft intact and often find that when I go back to the original, it's fresher and more lively than later versions. It's all a balancing (juggling?) act.

Carolynn Carey said...

I enjoyed reading your post, Carolyn. I enjoy editing and, like you, I tend to go on too long sometimes. However, in reading over your suggestions, I discovered some that I overlook when I'm going over my work, so I very much appreciate your advice.

Gina/Katherine said...

I'm an edit as I go gal, but I do know when to give it a rest and move on. Generally, I tweak the first three chapters until I've memorized the sentences. After that, though, it's "forward, march!" Once I'm moving forward, I only go back when I hit a wall (and it's usually because one of my characters or my plot has wandered into the weeds). Then I'm back on track, and it's forward momentum again.
Excellent tips for knowing when to move ahead and how to keep your focus on a quality story!

Beate Boeker said...

Great advice, Carolyn! I liked the part about descriptions overdone. I often find it hard to make smooth transitions without being too detailed or too superficial.

I.J. Parnham said...

The way I try to stop myself tinkering is to break the process down into writing, editing and proofreading. So when diminishing returns have set in with the editing I print off the ms and try to only check that the words actually say what I reckoned they said.

Curiously if I can bring myself to ignore the first thing I come across that I could have written better but which still makes sense then I can ignore the rest. If I come across too much I have to go back to editing, but telling myself I'm proofreading not editing sometimes helps me to say enough is enough.

Carolyn Hughey said...

Thanks for your feedback, everyone.

Sandy, LOL I love your line, ". . . have never read through a ms. that I couldn't find something to change."
Oh, do I relate!

Gina, that's a very disciplined approach to your writing. My problem is I've tried that on previous books and found it took forever to write the story.

Carolynn, glad my post helped.

I.J., I always find something that I think will sound better with a different word. LOL I wish I could just sit back and proofread. :-)

Thanks, everyone!