How to Edit Your Manuscript

This week, I had a nice meaty little project, editing a marketing book called The Cheese Mall, written by Bernie Tracey of Beacon Coaching Consultancy. Editing is very satisfying, because you’re enhancing people’s work and giving them a chance to display themselves in the best possible light. And you’re giving them a perspective on their work that they can’t have, because they’re too closely involved with it.

Good editing is a bit like gardening. You cut back the dead wood to allow the flowers to bloom. People worry that they’ll cut away the flowers along with the weeds. But it is possible to edit your manuscript without mangling it, just by making subtle language changes.

Most writers tend to overwrite, as they indulge their love affair with the English language and let themselves be carried along by a stream of ideas. If that’s you, here’s how you cut your ideas down to size.

  • Kill Your Darlings. If your manuscript is in danger of drowning in words, you’ll need to follow this famous advice from American writer William Faulkner. Kill off characters and sub plots that weigh your book down and detract from its central purpose.
  • Adjectives and Adverbs: Newsflash -you don’t need nearly as many of these as you think. Readers will still grasp your point. They want to work at your text; they want to imagine your world for themselves. Trust that a few well chosen words will do the work of many.
  • Repeated Words: Without realising it, you’ll find yourself repeating certain crutch words. This is a particular problem in first-person narratives, with the relentless use of ‘I.’ Taking the advice of my creative writing tutor, I cut down my use of the word ‘I’ in my own book and the manuscript shrank by around 8,000 words.
  • Clunky Sentences: Trimming down your sentences is another way to reduce your word count. Instead of writing ‘Jane pulled me close and held me in a tight embrace,’ try, ‘Jane hugged me tight.’ Same meaning, greater impact.

Some writers have the opposite problem. They find it hard to make their texts long enough. This is a more difficult problem to resolve as you have less room for manoeuvre. But there are a couple of things you can do.

  • Bulk Up. If your novel’s too short, chances are you haven’t given the reader the detail they need to imagine your world. Describing that world adds texture to your work and makes it live.
  • Put in Extra Scenes: Every writer has spare material. Don’t be afraid to draw on it. It’ll give more body to your work and complement what’s there. Just be careful that you don’t invent extra scenes and plots just for the sake of it though.

If you’d like to gain that extra perspective and bounce any editing concerns off me, I’ll be happy to talk to you. You can give me a call on 087 6959799/051 854426 or email

4 thoughts on “How to Edit Your Manuscript

  1. Pingback: Editing a novel |

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