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Have a Holly Jolly Editing Season

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...for Editing

The wonderful madness of NaNoWriMo is past, and we are now staring down the last few weeks of the year. If you participated in NaNoWriMo, you may have a brand-new novel on your hands. Even if you didn’t, you may still have a project that’s been recently finished or one that has been gathering metaphorical dust on your hard drive. What now?

With all the commitments of the holiday season, it can be tough to set aside large chunks of time to get more writing done. That makes December the perfect month to put on your editing hat. While the editing process is never easy—and is often a little bit painful—you can use the next several weeks to polish up your manuscript little bits at a time. Here are ten tips for editing in between cookie baking sessions, family gatherings, and Harry Potter movie marathons (because you know Freeform/ABC Family will hook us up).


1. Develop a goal for your edits.

Spoiler alert: You aren’t going to edit your book just once. If you’re gearing up for publication, you’ll want to go through with a fine-tooth comb at least two or three times. So on this first stab, develop a goal before you get going. Do you want to polish your language? Give more depth to a certain character? Decrease or increase your word count? Give yourself a major goal—or two or three—to keep your edits on track.


2. Create a schedule.

One of the many great things about NaNoWriMo is that it helps you stay on task day after day. Editing is a trickier business because your progress can’t always be measured in words. Still, create an editing calendar for yourself so you don’t fall too far behind in the holiday craze. Chunk out chapters or sections you want to edit, and give yourself plenty of time to do so. Be sure to reward yourself with hot chocolate when you meet your editing requirement for the day.


3. Put together a style sheet.

This may not seem like editing, and technically it isn’t. But having a style sheet can inform your editing in a big way. Your style sheet should include any terms, phrases, or names specific to your book so you can make sure they are used consistently throughout your work. You can also include character and/or place descriptions to make sure your main character’s eyes don’t switch from brown to blue halfway through the story.


4. Make an outline.

Or a map or a timeline, whatever makes the most sense for your particular project. In the throes of writing, we may sometimes miss little details about our plot, characters, or even the passage of time. Keep a separate document where you track the important details of your book to make sure you haven’t overlooked something. This document will also help you see the overall flow of your book and can highlight gaps you need to fill and/or redundancies and inconsistencies you should remove.


5. Snag those obvious spelling/grammatical errors.

Dreading diving into your manuscript? Afraid of all the horrors you might find? Start off simple with a spellcheck/grammar check, but don’t be sure to evaluate every change the machine generates. (I once had Word suggest I change “She held a gold coin” to “She held a gold coins” citing number agreement as my issue. Sorry, Word, I think you’re the one with issues…) Be sure to run this check again once you’ve completed your edits to catch any new errors that were introduced during the editing process.


6. Take it one chapter at a time.

When your hours are limited, focus on editing one chapter well. Editing isn’t a process you want to rush, so trying to cruise through your whole manuscript in an afternoon won’t do you a lot of good. Remember that editing isn’t just about running a spellcheck and fixing typos—it’s about strengthening everything from your sentence structure to your character development to your overall plot. Working slowly and methodically will help you make the right changes for your project.


7. Focus extra hard on chapter one.

Chapter one is your most important chapter (learn more about why here). This chapter is your gateway to readers, literary agents, and editors. You may never achieve 100 percent writing and editing perfection—it’s nearly impossible to do!—but make sure chapter one is as close to perfect as possible. It will benefit you in the long run!


8. Don’t miss easy fixes.

Editing is hard, but some typos, format goofs, and grammatical issues are fixed with the click of a button. Here are a few to check up on:

Two spaces after a period (or exclamation point or question mark). Yes, I know…many of us were taught this was the right way to write in high school. Unfortunately, the times have changed. Be sure to do a search and replace for two spaces and only include one space between a period and the start of your next sentence.

Straight quotes. Ick! Get those nice, curly quotes and apostrophes by searching for ^034 (quotation marks) ^039 (apostrophes) in MS Word and replacing them with their curly cousins. Going forward, make sure your word processing system makes the change automatically.

Wonky formatting. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to formatting fixes:

o   1” margins all the way around

o   Double spacing (with no space—0 pt.—before and after)

o   Use indents, not tabs or five spaces to start a paragraph

o   Keep everything in the same font and font color (preferably in Times New Roman and auto/black) unless you have special sections that require a different font (e.g. a handwritten letter, text message, etc.)

o   Use *** to indicate a section break within a chapter

o   Only use bold to indicate headers. If you are emphasizing a word, italics is preferred. (Note: there’s no reason to use underline in most manuscripts.)


9. Work simultaneously with a critique partner.

If your manuscript is in good enough shape for a second set of eyes, send the draft off to a critique partner. Once you’ve both completed your edits, take a look at what your CP recommended. It’s interesting to see how someone else interprets your writing, and you’ll likely find there are some great suggestions you didn’t even think of!


10. Last but not least, keep multiple drafts.

All of us have been the position of adding something in or taking something out and then immediately having writer’s remorse. Be sure to save your original draft and a backup working draft as you go. If you’re a little paranoid like me, save the original to an external hard drive or the cloud just to be safe.


Happy editing to you this season! And don’t forget to check out the sidebar for some great articles about editing resources.


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(This article was originally published in December 2017.)

Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She loves reading and writing but not arithmetic. Follow her on Twitter at @LillianJaine or on her blog at