Hacks for Hacks (sense of humor required)Look, I don’t want to imply there’s anything wrong with your book. I’m just saying that if your first draft was a masterpiece, your second draft will be like Wuthering Heights and The Brothers Karamazov glued together. Here’s how you can turn your hunk of clay of a first draft into the Mona Lisa.

  • Buy a blue pencil. You’ll need it to write down the snacks you’ll wanna buy for your next editing session.
  • Print two hard copies of the manuscript. The first is so you can make your edits on paper like God intended. The second is for years later when the Smithsonian comes asking if you have any memorabilia they could display.
  • Buy books on editing. This article makes them all obsolete, of course, but they’ll look great on your bookshelf. “Ooh, this writer apparently knows a thing or two about editing!” they’ll say. “Look at all those books!”

If you ask an editor if they’re a scammer, legally they have to tell you or it’s edtrapment.

  • Trim the fat. Nobody wants to read a flabby manuscript. Take out unnecessary words, as well as all references to fried foods and soda.
  • Murder your darlings. One of the most useful bits of writing advice, it’s a figure of speech that means that in your novel, you must kill a beloved pet, love interest, or small child. It’s hard, but I didn’t make the rules.
  • While you’re at it, let some of your minor characters know you might bump off a few of them, too, if they don’t start adding more to the story. Do this out loud.

  • blue pencils

    Photo by rosmary

    Add a sword fight.

  • Remove all instances of the following terrible words: moistened, accoutrements, tarpaulin, smelly, luncheon, dungarees, phlegm, incentivize, caulk, mouthfeel.
  • Do add the word defenestration. It’s a cool-sounding word, plus it’s a great way to get rid of those underperforming characters who didn’t heed your warning.
  • Let everyone on Twitter know how much fun you’re having by using the #amediting hashtag. I’ve talked about hashtags before, and the editing process is a great opportunity to use what you’ve learned. “This is so much work! #amediting” or “I can’t believe I thought this was a good idea for a book #amediting” or “I’m going to stab myself in the eye with my blue pencil. #amediting”
  • Cut more than you add. Remember this oft-shared piece of writerly advice: “The second draft is the first draft minus ten percent or the sum of all named characters divided by the number of mysterious red-haired women with green eyes, whichever is greater.”

And if all else fails:

  • Hire a professional editor. You can find hundreds of freelance editors willing to help you fix your book. But beware–there are lots of scam artists out there who charge exorbitant rates to do barely more than a spell check. Tip: If you ask an editor if they’re a scammer, legally they have to tell you or it’s edtrapment.

You can always make your book better. Why stop at just a second or third draft? A lot of writers grow to love their characters; once you master these techniques, you can make an infinite number of incremental changes–you and your book will be together forever!

What are your best editing techniques? Share them in the comments!


About Bill Ferris

After college, Bill Ferris left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his wife, Jen, and his sons, Elliott and Wyatt, and he looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.