Blog Highlights: How I Conduct an Editing and Polishing Round

For the grand opening of this blog, I’m spotlighting some of my favorite blog posts and moments from over the years throughout the month of June.


Week One: Writing Tips and Advice





First posted on September 5, 2011

See the original post at:

This week I am on the very last legs of this draft of Book 2: SCARLET, and am optimistic that it will be in my agent’s inbox before the weekend. (HOORAY!!!) In honor, I thought I would talk a bit about what a “polishing round” looks like for me.

The polishing round is different in that I’m no longer making big sweeping revisions. My plot is set. I feel good about my character arcs. I’m confident that there’s a nice progression of stakes and suspense and it all comes to a lovely little exciting climax at the end.

When I reach this point is when I think—Oh, good! All I have to do now is a bit of tweaking, editing, and polishing, and it will be done! That’ll be a breeze!

And then a week and a half later I’m like, How did I forget, AGAIN, how obnoxious this stage of the process can be? Because it’s not a breeze. Sadly, there’s still lots to be done to make the manuscript presentable, and it tends to be very slow and meticulous work.

Here’s what a “polishing round” looks like for me:

Research and setting details.
Inevitably I finish a revision round with a few dozen notes scattered throughout the manuscript. Stuff like: What kind of birds are in France in September? Or, What are modern sewers constructed out of? I leave these bolded as I write, so when it’s time I can do a search for all bolded text and knock out the research stuff rather quickly.

My manuscript and scene checklists
Last year I made myself a couple checklists: one for an entire manuscript and one for going scene by scene. (I think I got the idea from James Scott Bell.) So at this point I go over the checklists and force myself to really think about everything from theme and symbolism to superfluous minor characters to whether or not my chosen setting details are conveying the right mood.

If you’re interested, you can see my checklists here:


Reviewing for tension and action/reaction sequences.
Next, I take a look at my scene list (or outline) and check that there’s a good progression in tension and action/reaction scenes. I have two ways of doing this. For action/reaction, I’ll mark each scene with either a plus (for action) or a minus (for reaction). If there are lots of plusses or lots of minuses in a row, I try to find a way to rearrange them or see if I change one of the scenes to go the other direction.

For tension, I highlight each scene as either green (low tension), orange (medium tension), or red (off the charts tension). I try not to have more than a handful of green scenes in the entire manuscript, and especially not all clumped together (which would be booooring). Likewise, I try to keep the orange and red alternating so the reading experience isn’t totally breathless and dizzying, with the exception of the climax scenes of course.

Hunting for crutch words and phrases.
UGH. Probably my least favorite part of the entire writing process is hunting for crutch phrases. It took me four entire days with Scarlet, and at the end my eyes are bleary and my brain is mush. Everyone has their own set of crutch phrases and mine tend to involve lots and lots of looks, gazes, glances, stares, glares, squints, and other things we do with our eyes. I’m also big on hands. My characters’ hands are constantly twitching, flexing, squeezing, gripping, snatching, and grabbing.

When hunting down crutch phrases, I first make a list of my worst offenders (word clouds are helpful for pinpointing these). Then I highlight each instance in the manuscript using the search and replace feature. All hand phrases get one color, all smiles, grins, and lips get another, etc. Then I scan through the manuscript and choose which to keep, which to delete, and which to change on a case by case basis.

It seriously takes FOREVER.

Complete read-through.
And finally, I sit down and start from the beginning. The whole manuscript gets one last read-through. Hopefully I’ve reached a point where I can get a little lost in the story and feel like I’ve actually accomplished something worthwhile. Usually this is the first time when I can look at my book and think, huh, this actually isn’t half-bad! *relief*

Not to rest on my haunches entirely, though, I also use this opportunity to check for any potential inconsistencies and to make sure time and weather patterns aren’t jumping all over the place (like a storm in one scene followed by bright sun in the next).

Spell check and update chapter numbering.
Self-explanatory, yes? This part usually goes by fast, which is always much appreciated.

And then, finally, it’s done and ready to go off to my readers, and/or agent, and/or editor! Break out the champagne!

Do you have any tips for editing and polishing that I’ve overlooked?