Friday, May 25, 2012

Edits, Edits, and More Edits!

By Erin Cashman

After six years and three manuscripts, I finally found an agent and an editor and sold my novel, The Exceptionals. I thought I’d polish the manuscript a bit, and it would soon be in stores.

Boy, was I wrong! Now came the editing. I edited, and edited, and then I edited some more. I cut words, scenes and whole characters! My editor did love my dialogue, which was funny to me, because I used to have a terrible time crafting dialogue. I want all my characters to speak beautiful, proper English. Unfortunately, people do not speak like that. To fix that problem, I always read my dialogue out loud several times before I’m satisfied with it. Now I’m told dialogue is one of my strengths. 

As I poured over my editor's notes, I saw that she scribbled in several places: your writing is so fresh -- you can do better than this, or too cliché.  Fixing that problem was much harder than I thought it would be.

Since much of my book takes place in the woods, I went outside with my pen and notebook, and like my protagonist, Claire, sat down on a rock and observed what I saw, heard and smelled. The colors and sounds were different than what I had thought.  In the morning I jotted down what the sunrise looked like (my children get up much too early for school!). I was surprised to discover that in winter months I often saw vibrant bands of violet at the horizon - rarely did I see the pinks and oranges I saw in my mind’s eye.  I paid attention to storms and the way the clouds moved. Every observation went in my notebook.

And then I worked on avoiding the same old tired expressions. Once I did that, I started to notice how other authors described things.  Now, whenever I read a book, I have my green 3 ring binder handy. As I come across a phrase or description that is beautiful or interesting, I stop and try to come up with my own unique way to express it – which I scribble down. When I’m writing – and I use it even more often during re-writes -- I have my notebook with me, and I reference it often.  

This system also works for descriptive words -- I jot down adjectives and verbs I like. In the back of the notebook I have a few pages devoted just to action verbs. How many times can I write ran, darted, bolted. . . ? But now I can quickly look and find thundered, side-stepped, squeezed, pranced, trundled along . . .

Through the long process from manuscript to the birth of the book, I realized that most authors have strengths and weaknesses. I’m so thankful that my editor showed me some of my weaknesses, because as I worked on correcting them, I became a much better writer.


  1. Amen! Erin, I'm just wrapping up my final edits now and I can agree completely. Finding your weaknesses is what makes you a stronger writer. :) Thank you for the reminder!

  2. Good luck, Amy! The final edits can be the hardest to get through. Sweeping changes were easier for me than the last edit, when I knew I wouldn't be able to go back to something that didn't seem right - I had to find a way to fix it.

  3. Erin--I do the same thing! I collect verbs and beautiful phrases!

  4. Great post! I wish I had that much discipline to keep notebooks. Used to keep a journal and will have to start that up again! Great post! THis is Anne B.

  5. Hi Erin,
    I really enjoyed your post today. Always good to hear a concrete tip on how we can strengthen our writing.


  6. Lori Nelson SpielmanMay 26, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Thanks for a great post, Erin. Nice reminder to keep my notebook handy.

  7. Great post Erin! I love finding new ways to describe things too. Funny this love/hate relationship we have with edits. LOL

  8. I read this at just the right time, Erin. I just started the edits on the novel I'm publishing with Penguin, and it took me half an hour just to figure out the TRACK CHANGES mode he he. Now on to the actual rewriting bits...but I feel very blessed to have an editor, and I loved your ideas about capturing fresh language on the spot. Thanks so much.

  9. I'm doing my copy edits. The easy part, right? Well maybe not. But yes, everything that's hard, makes you stretch. Every stretch makes you a better writer. I attended a workshop by Donald Maas today at the Backspace Conference. He pushed ups to some uncomfortable places. And he saw us all squirming. And he pointed out that those were the places where we could make our manuscripts better. Truth. It's not easy but it is sooo worth it.

    Thanks for the great post, Erin. Love the notebook idea!