In his brilliant book about the writer’s craft, On Writing, Stephen King offers this handy nugget of editing advice:
In other words, no matter how much you adore a certain scene, or even a particular sentence, that’s not reason enough to keep it. Here are seven simple strategies to help you edit your memoir:
1. Let Your Book Grow Up First.
Every manuscript, like every human being, has three stages of development: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. “In your early drafts, give yourself permission to play,” a writing professor once told me. “Don’t be strict about manners until your manuscript is old enough.” Why? Because if you worry about editing too soon, you might give up writing. Let your first draft be bad. Let it be the worst thing you’ve ever written! Nobody will see it but you, and you can’t shape a narrative until you’ve written enough of your book to see its shape.
2. Write the book jacket copy.
Create your “elevator pitch,” the summary you’ll use to hook an agent or editor. Envision this as the marketing copy on your book jacket and write it first. Then do a summary of that marketing copy. Finally, boil your theme down to a single sentence that will hook readers. For instance: “My inner city upbringing posed challenges that taught me how to be a creative, resilient entrepreneur.”
3. Tackle Big Picture Edits First.
If you haven’t done an outline yet, do one now. Once you’ve outlined the book, check each chapter and scene to see if they advance your narrative and support your single-sentence theme. Toss anything that doesn’t.
4. Read Your Manuscript Aloud.
By reading your book aloud, or by listening to someone else read it to you, you’ll easily catch clumsy sentences and flawed grammar.
5. Edit the Book Backwards.
It’s tough to do line editing—that’s why publishing houses hire copy editors—but you’ll focus better on the language if you read your book backwards, sentence by sentence. Eliminate passive sentences and empty, overused words like “nice” and “pretty.”
6. Leave It Alone.
Once you’ve edited your book, put it away for at least a month, then come back to edit it again with fresh eyes.
7. Call on Your Beta Readers.
When you’ve done all you can, call in your trusted Beta readers—people who will offer you honest, constructive feedback on your book.
What about you? Any editing tips you find helpful? I’d love to hear them!