Quick Note: This is a series of blog posts many of which have ideas that are based off of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. I highly recommend reading this book if you typically have problems with the mechanics of writing (plots, character arcs, subplots, revising, etc.). This book is aimed mostly at fiction novels, but these techniques can be applied to most aspects of writing.
At this point you’ve done everything you can to procrastinate the inevitable read through of your manuscript. You can’t put it off any more, and you wouldn’t want to if you could. I’d love to be able to give you a long post about all the different ways to possibly do this part of the process, but I can’t. The only way to read through your piece is to sit down and do it. I do, however, have a few tips for making the process as quick and as helpful as possible!
1. Print out your novel: black ink, double spaced
Honestly, this will help make editing so much easier. As writers, I think that we have a certain fascination and connection to seeing writing on paper, and it’s very exciting to see your manuscript printed out (mine ended up being 165 pages, the printer ran out of paper three times, and in all took about an hour to print the whole thing, but, God, it was worth it). The paper will make it easier on your eyes, when reading through the whole thing for the first time. It’s also easier to add in notes and editing markers.
Bonus tip: Get yourself one of those gigantic binder clips. You know the ones that you look at in the store and thing “Who the heck buys these things?” You. You buy these things because no other binder clip is going to keep your novel together. (You could also put everything in a binder, but I personally hate to use binders and will avoid them whenever possible.)
2. Number your pages
I picked up this tip in my creative writing class last semester. It will make it really easy for both you and an editing buddy (if you have one) to find certain section of text. For example, I nixed about the first ten thousand words of my first draft. Because my pages were numbered, it’s been really quick for me to flip to page 34 every time I wanted to see how my story was starting. Without that page number, I’d have to sort through about 40 pages to find that one section every time I went to look for it. Plus it’s super simple to do in Microsoft word! Just go click into the header and then click the button that says “Page Number.” Word will then automatically number all of your pages!
3. Bell recommends developing a read through system by creating symbols
This is the system I used! Some of the symbols are the same ones that Bell used. Some of them I added, because I wanted to use them. I used the ?, [ ], O, and ( ) the most.
4. Get yourself a nice red pen
Honestly, there’s nothing better to edit with than a really nice red felt tip pen. I personally would recommend the Sharpie brand 0.5 one.
5. Try to read it all at once
It’ll just be done a lot quicker, and you’ll get more into the story. I read all of mine in about a day, the majority of which was done after seven o’clock at night while I was in my room. Make yourself a cup of tea (or hot chocolate or coffee or water etc.), and just sit down and do it.
6. Most importantly, don’t get discouraged
This is your first draft. It’s messy. It needs works. That’s okay, because everyone has first drafts like that. Even your favorite writers. Right now you have to be your editor self. The unapologetic, red pen wielding editor, who is here to make your writing better. Don’t cringe. Don’t start over thinking your writing. You’ve grown as a writer in the months and/or weeks that you’ve let your draft sit in a drawer. You’ll be fine.
Those are all of the tips that I have for the read through. Good luck and happy writing (or reading)!
Links to other posts in this series: