March 29, 2019 Brian Allain

Sarah Arthur’s Top 10 Tips for Revising/Editing

A while ago a friend asked for tips on revising/editing. Here’s what I said, based on things I’ve done as a writer and editor over the past sixteen years:

(1) Pretend you’re an editor in Manhattan with no time to waste. Be ruthless, as if you just arrived at your desk after hideous traffic snarls and have exactly one hour to sip Starbucks before the next meeting in which you will crush some writer’s hopes. Dress the part if you have to.

(2) Read the article out loud to yourself in a British accent: you will immediately notice the bad grammar, not to mention all the places where it sounds dumber than necessary.

(3) Don’t let yourself listen to your favorite music except while revising.

(4) Reward yourself with chocolate after each finished paragraph or section.

(5) Print the darn thing (double-spaced) and mark it up with a colored pen–yes, even red pen, if it makes you sit up straight and start behaving like you can handle criticism (because nothing you do to yourself will be as unkind as what readers will do to you). For a book-length manuscript, save it as a pdf (double-spaced, two-sided) and email it to the printing center at your local office supply store for pickup later. This is a grownup business expense, people.

(6) For a book-length manuscript: format and save it as an e-pub file in Dropbox or Google Drive (or email it to yourself), then download and open it on your e-reader as if it’s a novel that someone actually published. Then sit in your comfiest chair, like you’ve just bought something by Bret Lott, and start reading. Would you like it? Would you keep reading? In this exquisitely short life, for which there are far fewer days than books to read, would you bother swiping to the next page?

(7) Cry.

(8) Throw things.

(9) Walk away. Count to ten–even ten days. It’s like parenting small children, actually. You could hurt this thing and yourself if you press on. Come back later, after your heart-rate goes back down and your breathing returns to normal.

(10) Recognize that you will never be done editing. At some point you have to say “Good enough,” wipe your hands, and treat yourself to a 1500-calorie dessert somewhere. Adult beverage not optional.