Break It Down: Revising Your Manuscript Line-by-Line

Recently a friend of mine introduced me to Jennie Nash’s “How To Edit a Complete Manuscript” and it was revealing in a lot of ways. One thing that really stood out to me was an anecdote comparing editing a novel to learning a new sheet of music. Granted, this may have hit home more with me as a musician than it would a non-musician, but it illustrated the point extremely well.

You see, when you sit down to learn a new piece, you start with the rhythm and intonation (making sure the notes are the correct pitches) and once you’ve got those down, then you start to add in the musicality, what makes your audience “feel” the piece.

I had a friend, a phenomenal violinist, who would practice a new piece bar by bar. She broke down each line individually, making sure she’d mastered it before moving on. As writers, we must do this sentence by sentence.

After reading Ms. Nash’s guide, I went back and read through my first chapter aloud, keeping the above in mind. When there were hitches in the flow or a sentiment wasn’t quite right, I stopped, rewrote the sentence/paragraph, then started reading again from the top of the scene.

Many darlings were killed, I now hate the sound of my own voice, and I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m crazy. BUT the writing is better. And when the writing is better, the reader experience is better.

You’re not going to be the next [Insert NYT Bestselling Author of your choice here] by simply throwing words on a page. It takes time and patience and an acute attention to detail to illustrate the story in your mind effectively to a reader. So take a deep breath, grab your editor’s cap and spend some quality time with your story.

Happy Writing!

You can find Ms. Nash’s guide, “How to Edit a Complete Manuscript,” here, and for more of Ms. Nash’s incredible insight, visit her blog.

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