Exercise Your Editing

“How was your run?”

Every once in a while, my DH will break up his normal exercise routine and run outside.  He has worked out faithfully five days a week for the past six years.  His routine includes any of the following: stair master, treadmill, free weights, universal weight machine, calesthenics and the rowing machine.  On occasions, he will take his tennies out doors.

When he does, he usually ends up a bit sore. 

You see, his body is used to the gym routine he puts it through.  He’s in great shape, active and healthy by anyone’s standards. Yet different activities can utilize different muscles in different ways.  Even for those who are in great shape.

Editing is no different.  We get so used to seeing our own writing and editing our own words that we forget to give our manuscript a challenging work out.   We edit within our comfort zones, following a routine that pushes us just a little, but doesn’t allow for a full body work-out.

In this way, our writing is ill prepared to enter the submission rounds.  It may have some serious strengths, but over all, any switch in the routine will test unused muscles–something agents and editors are very adept at.

To fully prep our manuscripts, we need to strap on our metaphorical tennies and hit the pavement. 

What unique techniques boost your finished product?  What is your favorite editing tip?  Give us something to work with so we can challenge our manuscripts to a better edit.  I’ll add them to the list.


  • Read Out Loud.  Besides annoying the dog, it gives me the opportunity to really  hear what my writing sounds like.  This is especially important for poets and picture book writers.  Although, it is important for all writers to capture a good rythm and cadence to their sentences.  Jmartinlibrarian takes this editing exercise one step further and reads out loud at critique groups.  There’s nothing quite like stumbling over words to know they don’t flow. 
  • Read Out of Context.  One of my favorite AQ games is the one where we post a quick excerpt from our manuscripts with a particular word in it.  This really isolates the passage and is great for picking out echoes, extra words or odd sentence structure.  This really helped me refine one of my manuscripts.  And the feedback from other writers was invaluable.  Lisa Gibson shares my love for this game.
  • Cut and Paste: literally.  Laura Marcella cuts her WIP into scenes and rearranges as needed to get the best flow.  Pete Morin uses a version of this by copying scenes onto index cards.   This method is highly visible and flexible during the editing process. 
  • Critique and Be Critiqued.  Eric Trant over at Digging with Worms recently gave critiquing a try.  You can read his experience on his blog.   I think Eric was surprised at how useful the feedback was after he swallowed his fear put his work out there–very publicly.  Additionally, it is always easier to see mistakes in someone else’s writing.  The key, according to Jean Oram is applying your words of wisdom to your own work.  She says critiquing wakes up her editing eyes.
  • Wordle.  Wordle?  Yeah, you know those clouds that give you a visual on your word usage in a manuscript?  That Wordle.  The word according to Jemi Fraser is that this helps her find her overused words.  Know who else loves Wordle?  Cassandra Jade.
  • Find and Replace.  Jemi also uses this tool to get rid of her rut words.  I’ve done it myself to nail down my bobble heads, as there is nothing more annoying than a character who nods at everything. 
  • Take a Breath.  Yvonne Osborne puts her manuscript away for days, weeks or months.  This self-imposed vacation helps her see her writing with fresh eyes.  This step is often missed by newbies who can’t wait to get their roughly edited drafts into the real world.  How do I know?  Obviously, I was a newbie once too.
  • And don’t forget the real exercise.  Limbering up your limbs keeps you in good shape for extended writing stints. 

23 responses to “Exercise Your Editing

  1. This is a little trick I’ve used successfully: I print my WIP and cut out each scene. Then I arrange the scenes in different orders. Sometimes I realize my story is ready as is or it’s completely out of order. I’ve reversed a beginning and middle (with some rewriting) using this method. It’s a fun and unconventional way to revise your draft! And so far, I’ve gotten better feedback on my drafts after using this method. I’ve used it for short stories so far, and I plan to use it for my novels, too.

    • laura,

      I’ve heard this method workds great. It is a visual reminder of the story’s flow and it’s a heck of lot easier to rearrange the scenes this way.

      Thanks so much for sharing~ cat

  2. I am REALLY glad I read this article. I never thought of editing like that. I work out as faithfully as my body will let me — it is betraying me these past two weeks — but I never compared the editing/writing routine to a workout routine.

    I vary my workouts. I vary my drive into work. I change up my lunch routine, my evening routine, modify everything but my sleep routine, which is set in stone to rise before dawn, bed down early when things get quiet.

    I recently challenged my editing routine by submitting for critique. That’s a huge change in my routine.

    I also began critiquing other authors. Again, huge change.

    And you are absolutely correct. Like a good workout, changing your editing (and writing) routine is painful, irritating, awkward and embarrassing.

    But in the end you’re a lot stronger for it.

    – Eric

    • Eric,

      I think variety is important in all aspects. When we practice a routine, we get complacent. Editing is the last place for that! I’m glad you joined the world of critiquing. It’s such a valuable part of the process and helps us thicken our skin for the professional feedback down the road.

      Thanks for adding your comment~ cat

  3. Great post! I really love that little game on AQ too. It’s fun and something different. Editing can be a toughie sometimes. 🙂

    • Lisa,

      It is one of my favorite games and probably the most valuable group exercise I’ve ever done. You learn so much by seeing a little snippet all on its own. Getting it perfect becomes almost obsessive!


  4. jmartinlibrary

    I think the read aloud suggestion is EXCELLENT. Reading out loud in a crit group is so helpful, too. Sometimes, I’ll catch bad dialogue or exposition the moment it comes out of my mouth.

    • Jenny,

      You have way more guts than me. I can read my kid’s lit out loud to a group of kids and have a blast doing it. However, the idea of reading out loud in front of adults scares me silly. I obviously need to work on this a bit…

      But you’re right, you can just hear how off a word or phrase sounds when people are looking at you. Thanks for adding this aspect to it. It takes reading out loud to a whole new level!


  5. These are great. I love the AQ game as well. I also find that giving a critique is sometimes even more helpful that receiving one. I find it helps wake up my editing eyes for things that don’t work for me as a reader. Often, I find that when I go back to my own work–gasp–I’ve done that exact same thing and didn’t even notice!

    • Jean,

      I think some of my best tutoring came by way of critiquing. It is much easier to assess someone else’s writing and see what isn’t working. Too often, I’m too close to my own writing to see it. I often find that I make the same mistakes I have been scribbling in the side columns of my writing buddy’s pages.

      Great point~ cat

  6. These are terrific! I also use Wordle to find which words are used a lot (dare I say overused??) in the wip. Then the fabulous “find” or “find and replace” tool. Love them! My most recent annoying word was look/looked. It reads much more smoothly now 🙂

    • Jemi,

      I have yet to use Wordle, but since you’ve mentioned it several times, I feel like I need to do so. But I have to admit, I’m a bit scared to give it a try.

      Find and replace is the bomb for getting rid of nasty action tags where shrugging and nodding replace said. Thanks for reminding us.

  7. I agree, find and replace is totally a God send. Typewriters, ugh. No wonder there were so few writers back then!

    • On the other hand, maybe it was easier to break in. Less competition and stronger fingers?!?!?

      But boy do I remember my Granny’s old typewriter. It was nearly impossible to push down the keys, but us kids would spend hours typing messages on it. And then the keys would get stuck…

      Fun stuff for messing around. Not so great for an epic adventure!

  8. I have to agree with the use of wordle – it is excellent for finding those over used words that we read a thousand times but just do not see.

    Thanks so much for sharing these tips.

    • Cassandra,

      You’re about the fifth writer who has expounded on Wordle’s virtues. I shall give it a whirl. Thanks so much for your input.


  9. I do like to read aloud to myself. And if it’s musical and jiving I know I’m ok. If I have to roll my eyes I know what to do next. I love the reference to bobble heads! Very funny. The best editing trick is to put the ms. aside for weeks (or months) and then read it with fresh eyes. It’s the only way for me to tell if it stinks or sticks.

  10. While this has nothing to do with writing, it does have to do with working out! You should check out the P90x. I’ve added bits and pieces to my normal routine and it rocks. The core workout makes me sad, but I love it, and my tummy is looking pretty damn good. I got Jamie started on it too!

    • Passing this info along to Jeff. I’ve heard it is fabulous, but only in commercials! And how often can you trust those?

      BTW: your tummy has always looked good. As has your 2% body fat. I have more than that in one thigh!

  11. Pingback: Blog posts « Serial Distractions

  12. Hi I’m new to your blog and found you through Shedrick Pittman-Hassett’s blog, Serial Distractions where he referred to both our blogs. Thanks for putting this list together. I particularly liked the idea of Wordle. I need to give it a go!

    • Smander,

      Thanks so much for following me. I’ll return the favor as soon as I get a spare moment.

      Hopefully some of the tips will help. I always love it when I can include great advice from great writers. It seems so much more valid than me creating the list strictly from my own experiences. Like you, I haven’t used wordle yet, but I really should give it a try. I’ve heard so many writers who love using it.

      Thanks for commenting, and I hope to see you around.


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