Tag Archives: work out

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. 

Universal Appeal

By now some of you have met my DH.  You know he manages an ag dealership and hunts small, helpless animals.  Ostensibly to feed the family, though I’m not sure how Mr. Hare fits into that.  DH’s also a fitness buff.

Two years ago, he insisted on having his own work out room in the basement.  I’m pretty agreeable so I helped design the room and carry the stair master, the treadmill and the rowing machine down the stairs.  I stopped at the Universal Gym. Mostly because it was heavy, but also because I dislike them. 

Which leads me to the question: why do they call it universal?

It has no bicycle saddle, I can’t climb stairs on it and the last time I tried to sprint on it, I fell off and broke my nose.  Okay, that didn’t really happen, but you get the picture.  It is not universal.  Nor does it have universal appeal.  For every ounce of love DH has for it, I equal it in hate.

Literature is no different.  Not one novel in the history of writing has universal appeal.  For every advocate, there is a dissenter.  And yet aspiring writers continue to judge themselves by the books they do not like. 

As much as I like to pretend otherwise, I have fallen into this trap.  Tucked inside my desk drawer is a hideous picture book that I do not like.  I keep it because it inspires me. 

“If ABC got published then surely my XYZ will,” I say as I stuff the book into the far recesses of my desk.

Does this make me a snob?  Maybe.  Most definitely.

But I’ve been trying to change.  Over the years I have learned that the publishing industry is highly complex.  It is not a solo jog on the treadmill.  Rather, it’s a lot like those pulleys and weights on DH’s universal machine.  Everything is interconnected in ways I don’t always see or can’t begin to understand.  Yet my lack of comprehension does not change the fact that these systems must all work together to create the end result.

In writing, I must have talent, ability and perseverence just to get my story onto paper.  This is closely followed by motivation and honesty.  Yep, honesty.  I have to assess my writing with a discerning eye. 

Instead of dragging my old nemesis, The Picture Book, out from the drawer and comparing it to my work, I have to look at my writing indpendently.  They are two completely different pieces of literature.  Someone already believed in that book.  Mine has yet to wow the Publishing Gods.  And, inevitably, my writing will have faults too.  Who knows, it may be tucked away in another aspiring writer’s desk drawer for inspiration.

I hate the reality of that, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.  Sometimes years go by before a manuscript is ready for a serious work out–the one it will get by agents and editors and marketing departments and design staff.  At any stage in the process, someone can decide that my proposed, next best-seller hits them like The Picture Book hits me.   

No writing has universal appeal.  I loved the Bartimaeus Trilogy, my brother didn’t read past the first five pages.  Yet it made the rounds and can be found in a book store near you.

For a manuscript to journey from rough draft to end caps, it must undergo a rigorous work out on the universal machine.  We must provide the best work possible.  Our agents must love, love, love our book enough to gamble next year’s mortgage on it.  Editors, marketing managers and designers must believe in the project enough to put their sweat and ink into it.

If writing is a quick stint on the Stair Master, publishing is a work out on the Universal Gym.  I can tone my manuscript solo, but without the pulleys and weights, my writing will remain in my desk drawer next to The Picture Book.

It’s not to say everyone will love my books after purchasing them with their hard earned money.  I’m smart enough to know that.  However, somewhere along the way, I must have a team willing to pull for me. 

I’m sure that has Universal Appeal!

Do you find yourself comparing your work to published pieces?  If so, what do you take away from the experience?  Does it help you move forward or simply fuel your frustration?

Have you ever found a book with Universal Appeal?  If so, I’d like to know about it.