Five things I learned about Paper Edits

Yesterday it rained, and I’ve been starting to get a little tired in the afternoons–what with being 6 months pregnant and all–so I knew if I went home I’d just sleep a lot of the afternoon away. Instead, I took myself out to Potbelly’s and plowed through the last 250 pages of my paper edits. Yeah! Go me!

This was my first time doing paper edits on a hulking 520 page manuscript. Here’s what I learned in the process:

  1. Paper edits are worth doing. Editing on paper is a lot different than editing on screen. You notice different things, and you get a better sense of your pacing, how you are moving through the book (quarter of the way, half way, three quarters) than you do while editing on screen. You also have your original text right there and it doesn’t disappear, so you stay focused on making making your writing tighter rather than just fiddling around and adding to it.
  2. Use pencil, not pen. I started out working in pen, and I often got so excited about crossing stuff out and fixing things, that I sometimes changed things that, after finishing the paragraph, I realized were there for a reason. Then, while making my fixes, I often wrote in what I wanted it to say… and after ten crossouts and failed attempts, realized the original way was better. The sections that I edited in pen are a MESS and I’m kind of dreading inputting them into the computer. The sections that I edited in pencil are neat and organized and make sense.
  3. Paper edits allow you to think spatially. This may not help everyone, but as a very spatially-oriented person I remember exactly where on a page something I read was, so when I’m going along and I see, “Oh! I just used that word a couple pages ago!” it’s soooo much easier for me to find the part I’m thinking of and make fixes. And that goes for finding that scene or paragraph of description you just realized is unnecessary ten pages after you read it. Bottom line: You don’t get lost in a huge scrolling document the way you do on screen.

    Also on the spatial front, having all that text in front of you also makes it easier to flip around in a given chapter, so you notice how moving a paragraph to a different location works better, or where you can cut a section without having to add a transition between two parts. And because your changes are all circles and arrows, you can read through it and test drive the change without having screwed something up if you don’t like it.

  4. Do your edits as fast as possible. Not that quality isn’t important, but with paper edits you have to leave sections on the cutting room floor. The best way to know what needs to be there and what doesn’t is to have a sense of your story as a whole, and that means moving quickly through it. Moving quickly also means you’re more likely to notice that every third chapter your MC is looking out the window. Or that you’ve used the words “tilted” and “tipped” way more often than anyone should ever use “tilted” and “tipped.”

    Going fast also builds up a momentum. I breezed through page 50 to about 200 in a couple days… and then life happened and I puttered around pages 200-320 for almost two weeks. Then yesterday, I took myself out for lunch and did page 320-520 and I was finished. I think the quality of my edits during the long hauls was probably a lot better than the little snatches. I had a better sense of where I was in the story, what came before and after, and I was a lot more focused.

  5. Making cuts is still tough. I thought I’d scratch a sentence here and there and loose a TON of words on this edit. Not so easy. Other than my first chapter, which I ended up cutting entirely (and I’m still mulling over whether I need to put any of it back or not), I did not find as many of these little cuts as I’d hoped. And, naturally, I have a reason in my mind why every single scene I didn’t cut is important… but I adore my story, so of course I think everything is important.


I’ve mentioned my wordcount woes before, and I haven’t inputted my paper edits into my document yet, so I don’t yet know where I stand with that. I don’t think I cut enough. Not 30,000 words enough, anyway. Last night after I was finished making my paper edits, I went back through and managed to cross out a couple more chunks. I’ve got a couple other parts that I am questioning my motives for keeping as well that I may go back and take a second peek at this afternoon. I have to be suspicious of myself. I love nothing more than to read and write about an interesting character in their everyday happenings. But it’s got to move things forward physically or emotionally, and sometimes the amount of emotional movement in a given scene is not enough to justify it’s staying. Where to draw the line, though?

At the same time… wordcount isn’t everything. This is a book that I originally intended to be a trilogy… but then structurally it didn’t work. Most of the plot of the third book ended up being spread around the first and second book as a side plot, and then the first book and second book were too co-dependent to split up. It may be that whittling it down to 100K will do more harm than good, and if that’s the case, I’d rather it was too long. We’ll see…


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