Self-Editing and Stuck? Try this technique!
When writers first approach me about working together on their book or story, they often ask me about my process. How do I work? What do I do with their book? What will it look like when they get it back? Those are great questions, and we usually exchange a few emails going over the details, sometimes even including a phone call to ensure everything’s clear.
Today, though, I did something I don’t do very often when I’m working on a client’s book, so I thought I’d share it here. It will give you an idea as to how deep I go and how hard I work to ensure you’re getting my best, and it’s also a technique you can try if you’re really stuck.
I’m editing a memoir written by a man who grew up on the violent streets of Baltimore but who’s now living, in his words, the American Dream. He admitted to me when we spoke that his goal was simply to get everything out of his head, get his story down on paper, and then hire someone to help him sort it out and make it engaging for the reader. That’s where I come in.
My client was very self-effacing and downplayed his writing ability when we were talking, so I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the draft. It does need a lot of work, but the bones are good.
However, I got to a section today that was about six pages long, and I could almost physically see his thoughts jumping around. The chronology got lost and things were repeated that didn’t need to be. I looked at it and looked at it on my screen, reading and scrolling down, reading and scrolling down, and I just couldn’t see enough of it at once to figure out how to cut and paste the paragraphs (which I knew needed to happen) on those six pages to make it flow better.
So what did I do? I literally cut and pasted.
Here’s the technique I mentioned:
- I printed those six pages.
- I jotted notes to myself in the margins about the content of each paragraph.
- I numbered the paragraphs sequentially in the other margin (so that I could more easily connect them to the digital version on my laptop).
- I cut them apart.
I ended up with 17 puzzle pieces once I’d separated the paragraphs from each other. With that done, I was free to look at my notes in the margins and fit the puzzle pieces back together in an order that made more sense from start to finish, deleting one of the paragraphs completely.
Then, with the help of the numbers I’d written in the margins, I was able to go back to my laptop and easily cut and paste the digital version as necessary. The whole process took me about twenty minutes. I don’t know how long I would have had to stare at those six pages on my screen to accomplish the same thing.
This technique can be a sanity-saver, trust me. Although I don’t have to pull it out of my toolbox very often, when I do, I’m always glad it’s available.
Are you interested in learning more about my general editing process? Do you have other questions I can answer? Don’t hesitate to ask! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below and let me know what’s on your mind and how I can help.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!