So, we’ve finished our novel and now we might have 60,000 or more words to edit. How are we going to do it? We’ve looked at how to edit the words here, but what about the quantity? When we have an entire novel to edit doing the whole thing can look like a terrifying prospect, so what methods can we use?

My preferred method is to take it a chapter at a time. I have my complete manuscript in one file and I copy each chapter into a separate file to work on it. The main benefit of this is that a chapter looks a lot more manageable than an entire novel. This also allows me to move bits around and completely rewrite chapters without worrying about accidently removing bits from the main manuscript. It also allows me to save multiple copies for each change without ending up with lots of copies of the entire manuscript. It does have disadvantages such as accidentally editing the manuscript version instead of the separate version if both windows are open, the possibility of cutting rather than simply copying the chapter from the main manuscript, missing bits or putting them in the wrong place. It doesn’t happen often but it can happen but, overall, I end up with fewer copies of the main manuscript while not losing any changes however many I make.

Another common method is to print of a manuscript and read it through and make notes by hand. This can be very beneficial because some people see more mistakes on paper than they do on a screen. However, there are also drawbacks such as paper and ink consumption, forgetting page numbers or losing lose pages, and the fact some people can’t use a pen. The major problem or benefit, depending on your perspective, is that you then have to go through the manuscript again and make changes on the digital version. On the one hand this can be a disadvantage because it can be slow and time consuming. On the other it could be beneficial because more changes may become apparent. The extra time taken can also give more time for thinking over changes, which isn’t to say the first method means a writer spends less time on their editing.

Some writers use text-to-speech programmes to read their manuscripts back to them, this can be particularly helpful in spotting errors and where things don’t sound quite right. However, this can depend on how good the program is (note that price doesn’t equal quality) because some text-to-speech programs can sound awkward, particularly when faced with colloquial language so this method might take some trial and error. My main problem with this method is how funny some scenes can sound when read back by a program, particularly any form of swearing or romance, at which point I get giggly and miss bits.

Changing fonts is another way to help stimulate the mind and highlight errors. At present changing manuscripts to Comic Sans is particularly popular as a method of editing or writing. The theory goes that Comic Sans actually stimulates the creative part of the brain, or that it’s simply the irregular form of the letters, that makes writing ‘easier’ per se. Whatever the reason, simply changing font can make a big difference because the different shapes of the letters can highlight misspellings and incorrect punctuation.

Another popular method is using comment options on word processors, highlighting, or using different font to leave notes can be helpful when we come to edit. This has the obvious benefit of keeping the notes with the writing and reducing the chances of losing them. A disadvantage is that some people find too much information or too many different fonts/colours difficult to follow on screen. Although printing off a manuscript may help it doesn’t always. When printing off a manuscript that has comments on it’s also important to note that the comments will be shorter and, if there’s a lot of them, the lines linking the comments to the section they refer to can become less clear.

Finally, there’s the layer method. In this method we literally layer edits, we might go from one end of a manuscript to another doing basic edits then go back to the beginning and go through it again, either adding to the changes we’ve made or doing a different type of editing. For instance, we might go through on one version changing obvious mistakes and refreshing our memories, then on the next start adding breadcrumbs we missed that build to the conclusion, and so on. We may even do layer editing by using each of the previously mentioned methods to look at our work from a different angle in our quest for thoroughness. The advantage of this is that we can look at the complete manuscript as a whole, but this can also be a disadvantage because some people simply find it too much to think about at once and prefer to focus on smaller sections.

There are probably far more methods to use when editing than I can fit in one article, the important thing to remember is to find the method that works for you. There is no one right way to edit, whatever anyone says.

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Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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