Ernest Hemingway lied to you.
Well, sort of. If you’ve been in the writing game long enough you’ve probably read this quote by Hemingway: “Write drunk – edit sober.” And while one can appreciate the spirit (pun intended) behind this quote, it’s bad advice.
Today, let’s unpack three simple techniques for revising and editing your manuscript that don’t involve Tylenol.
A really sloppy manuscript, one that maybe took Hemingway’s advice a bit too far, is like giving yourself the freedom to show up unprepared for a job interview. You’re not taking this seriously enough. A lot of writers use this as permission to grant themselves the freedom to leave the manuscript wrinkled and untucked, creating more work down the road when you begin revising and editing your manuscript.
When you begin revising your writing, you want to give yourself the gift of starting the edits running downhill - not uphill. A clean manuscript that you’ve put the necessary time and work into will help you create momentum for the next steps, whereas a sloppy first draft just leaves you with more work to do.
A good first draft has made key decisions on where it wants to take the reader. It’s in a place where a reader can begin responding to the choices you’ve made. As a writer, you’ve received feedback and are ready to begin revising.
The art of revising involves three simple steps.
The first step is adding. What’s missing from the manuscript? Often your readers will help you find those missing pieces. Maybe you need to elaborate more in one place or add something that is missing in another. Adding more content to a manuscript can feel labor-intensive, but keep your end reader in mind when you do this. You’re creating a better experience for that future reader.
If step one is adding, then you probably guessed step two is cutting. What needs to go? Often the best edits are the subtractions. By removing one part, you might be able to help another shine. A good way to get over your fear of making cuts to your manuscript is to save a new draft of the manuscript before you begin. Worried you’ll cut too much? You can always refer back to the previous draft for guidance. The other thing this does is give you support when it comes to trusting your instincts. Often the hardest edits to make are the ones where you’re cutting a section that you really enjoyed writing. A common phrase among writers is “Kill your darlings.” As violent as that may seem, it’s true. But perhaps with that trusty previous draft you saved, you can save - instead of kill - those edits.
“Remember: Nothing is wasted when you edit. It’s simply set aside for future use.”
The last step in editing is reorganization. Maybe chapter eight would work better as the second chapter. That story from the intro is really good, but you’ve received feedback that it sets a different tone than the one you were hoping for. Best to move it to later in the manuscript. Reorganizing is a lot like planning a trip - what sites do you want to see along the way? Once you begin understanding the lay of the land better in your manuscript, you can begin rethinking what it is you want to show your reader and when. Here’s an organizing tip we give a lot of clients when they are working on editing their manuscript: Write the intro last. You will be in a much better place to think through the organization of the manuscript then. Some writers get tripped up on writing the intro first for their nonfiction book because of linear thinking. Skip the intro. The same could be said for fiction. Kurt Vonnegut believed a writer should cut the first 33 pages of their novel. He believed that’s where the real story begins. Now the writer is warmed up and ready to tell you a story.
As you begin revisiting your writing in anticipation of making edits, keep these three parts in mind - add, cut, and reorganize. They are the building blocks of the art of revision and great tools to keep in your writing toolbox. Even if you subscribe to Mr. Hemingway’s advice, having these three frameworks in mind will help you sober up that manuscript.
Take Action: Need help figuring out where you are with your edits?
If you feel like your manuscript is stuck and you need help with finding the right editor, ask yourself this:
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