editing memoir is like climbing a mountain

7 steps to review and edit your book

If you’re working on your first book, you may be wondering how to best review it. By now you know that writing is rewriting, but that doesn’t make it easier.

“Do you mean I need to wrestle this beast a dozen more times? You can’t be serious!” you grumble when yet another author brags about the double-digit drafts his latest best-seller underwent.

The prospect of reviewing a manuscript so many times is enough to make a writer sweat. Even printing your 400-pages opus magnum a dozen times may be daunting. All that good paper wasted… What about the trees?

But there’s no escape. If you want high quality writing you need to put in high quality effort. A roadmap on what to look for when reviewing can be helpful.

Here are some tips adapted from Marion Roach’s The Memoir Project. These tips apply to any kind of book, as well as to shorter pieces and blog posts.

  1. Print your draft and write on the margin of every paragraph what’s about and what it does. (If it’s a book, you can do this for every page or every section.) Is it repetitive? Does it go in a different direction that detracts from the main story? Hack it. You can save it in a different document, in case it’s useful for a later piece.
  2. Print the manuscript again. Search all sentences starting by “I” and rewrite at least two-thirds of them, to begin with an action. (If your story is in the third person, the same tip applies.)
  3. Print again and look at adjective and noun pairings. Are they the best they could be? Edit as needed.
  4. Now look only at sentence length. Cut unnecessarily long sentences. Is there a more precise way to say the same thing?
  5. Review again, checking if the piece responds to your original intention, theme or pitch. What did you want to illustrate? Did you meet your obligation?
  6. Read it out loud. Cut out or edit parts that sound awkward, boring or reveal a dissonant tone or voice.
  7. Once your manuscript is as good as you can make it, pass it on to one or more trusted editors and review it all over again based on their feedback. The key word here is trusted, as in knowledgeable.

You can change some steps to others that work better for you. The point is that it helps to focus on different aspects of the story every time you review it. Start with the general (theme, plot) and narrow down to the details.

And if you still feel bad about the trees, fret no more: one dollar donation is all it takes to plant a new one thanks to the non-profit One Tree Planted.

So print away. Your work will improve and the world will breath better.

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