Never Go Back

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgA couple of years ago, I had a completed first draft of a first novel. Hurrah! I also had a month-long residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Double hurrah! That’s the perfect storm for revising a long manuscript. A private studio, no meals to cook, no interruptions. Sounds like bliss, right? Continue reading “Never Go Back”

How to Revise in Three Steps: Part 3

Definition of POLISH  from Merriam-Webster online


  1. : to make (something) smooth and shiny by rubbing it
  2. : to improve (something) : to make (something) better than it was before


Step 3 – Polish

The third and final step in revising a manuscript in three steps (Revise-Edit-Polish) may not include rubbing, exactly, but the goal of Step 3 – Polish is to produce clean copy. In the publishing industry, “clean copy” means error free.

Ideally, in Step 1 – Revise, you repaired structural weaknesses, plugged holes, built tension, revealed character growth, moved the plot from an engaging beginning to an exciting climax, and provided a satisfying and logical story for your reader.

Ideally, in Step 2 – Edit, you evaluated the narrative sentence by sentence and allowed good grammar and a pleasing style to give the story its own special voice and sound.

Ideally, in Step 3 – Polish, you will go through the manuscript one final time to make sure every plotline is closed, every false suspect is cleared, every character with red hair remains a redhead, and every word is spelled correctly, every i dotted and every t crossed.


Although this post is about the final step in the 3-part revision plan, this does not necessarily mean your story will be ready for submission. Perhaps it will. Perhaps you will run it by a beta reader. Perhaps you will hire an independent editor.

These three steps are to guide you to working on your own. It is my belief that, circumstances permitting, you should treat your MS to these three steps before you send to a beta reader or independent editor, or agent.  These three steps will help you get the MS to the best shape YOU, the author, can reach with on your own, with your single set of eyes.

If you work with a critique group and submit weekly or monthly, I think this system will work for chapters and scenes. Before each partial submission of a draft, Revise-Edit-Polish to save your critique partners from reviewing raw or rough material.

You would do this ideally. Remember–this is not the only way to revise. It is  a way to revise.

What does the Polish step do?

Each of these three steps has a specific purpose:

Step 1 – Revise is to strength the story as a whole.

Step 2 – Edit is to insure the words are correctly and pleasing put together.

Step 3 – Polish is a final look to judge if all errors and weaknesses are caught and repaired.

Revise looks at the broad landscape of the story. Edit looks at the smaller pieces of scenes and sentences. Polish looks at words—word by word by word.

For Step 3 – Polish, you will want to examine your pages with sharpest eye—at a time when your eyes are pretty tired of it! At this point, you may be suffering from Manuscript Fatigue Syndrome: the inability to “see” the details of your story because you’ve rewritten, tinkered, cut, pasted, and corrected it to the point of mental blindness.

With up to 100,000 words to examine, one by one, mental and visual fatigue are no joke. How can you help yourself see the words with fresh eyes for Step 3 – Polish?

In Step 1 – Revise, I noted that the work could be done on paper or by screen. In this step, changing your vision in a concrete way may help you see it more clearly. Here are some ways to do this:

~ If you have been working online, print out the manuscript and red pencil it.

~ If you have been working on paper, review the manuscript online.

~ Change your physical location: go to a library, coffee shop, your basement, a hotel for the weekend.

~ Change the background color of the manuscript.

~Change the size of the font, or change the font.

~ Read it aloud.

~ On paper, place a ruler below each line to keep your eyes train on one line at a time.

 What are you looking for?

A clean and polished manuscript goes beyond finding typos.

As you read with your sharpest eye, look for:

Technical/mechanical errors:  typos, omitted words, single/double quotation marks, ellipsis/dash errors, missing punctuation, dialogue tag errors.

Continuity: Unless a change occurs within the story, characters should have the same name, hair color, job title, number of siblings, pets, address, etc. throughout the story.

 Redundancies: Each sentence should offer a unique bit of information. Once the information is shared, such as identifying Sgt. Wilkes as your police character’s boss, you do not need to ID Sgt. Wilkes as the boss again. An exception to this is if the character appeared so briefly, you think the reader needs a reminder.

Word Choice:  Are verbs as precise and as strong as they can be? Are adjectives employed for a specific purpose, and not because you want your writing to sound pretty?

Repetition: Check for words or phrases in close proximity. If “she made up her mind” in one paragraph, in the next paragraph she might decide, vow, promise, instead of “she made up her mind” again. Also look for individual words used twice in the same sentence or paragraph. Variety is good.

Clarity: Is every sentence clearly written to convey an easily discernible thought? Is the wording smooth, without awkwardness?

Sentence Variety: Six word sentences are very easy. They can do an okay job. After a while they get dull. The sentences’ sounds will be blah. Your head will bob like a duck’s.  You will soon want a nap. Please give your sentences some variety.

Likewise: Pausing at the door, she felt in her pocket for the key. Checking down the hall for Zeke, she slipped inside the apartment. Holding her breath, she made sure no one was in the TV room. She tiptoed down the hall, stopping at each open door. She went into the kitchen, pulling the phone off the hook as she went by. She opened the oven, sticking her head inside after reading so many boring sentences.

Transitions:  Do paragraphs and scenes segue naturally forward? Do you use transitions—later, meanwhile, after a while, a week later, post-lunch—to jump ahead when necessary?

Grounding: Is it clear in every scene who is where and where is where?

Extraneous words:  Are you adding to the word count, but not to the content, by overloading the writing with deadwood? Cut out just, very, somehow, that, was, then, suddenly, and so on. Don’t forget pleonasms:  the up in walked up the stairs, and the down in descended down the stairs.

Your writerly habits: Every writer has favorite words, turns of phrase, quirks and style giveaways. This may make your writing unique, but it can also become repetitive with overuse. If you can hear or recognize a habit, that means you are overdoing it.

Can you stop now? Please? 

After Revise-Edit-Polish, this is probably the question you’d love to ask, and have answered with a resounding, “Yes!” Well, sorry, the answer is “Maybe. Maybe not.”

Where you go from here depends on you. No matter if you send this manuscript to a beta reader for feedback, a critique group for review, a professional editor for strengthening, or an agent for consideration, revising through these three steps of Revise-Edit-Polish will give you a stronger, tighter, more coherent, and cleaner work.

Because your work is worth it, right?

How to Revise a Manuscript in Three Steps

Definition of REVISE from Merriam-Webster online:

Transitive verb

  1.  a :  to look over again in order to correct or improve <revise a manuscript>

     b British :  to study again : review

  1. a :  to make a new, amended, improved, or up-to-date version of <revise a dictionary>


There are as many approaches to revision as there are writers with manuscripts to revise, but the goal is universal: to review a draft with the goal of making it stronger, tighter, and clean. The approach below is a task oriented system of reviewing a manuscript to achieve that goal. It requires three steps: Revise, Edit, Polish.

Why three steps? Can’t you revise in one intense, comprehensive manuscript review?

Of course you can, if that works for you and if you are able to juggle multiple mental tasks at the same time. There is no one correct way to revise.

However, measuring a manuscript’s story power, language use, and effectiveness while simultaneously checking for grammar and correcting typos can be overtaxing. And overwhelming. If you are trying to evaluate too many things at once, it’s easy to become frustrated and to miss problems. You can get mired in the same spot of your manuscript.  By the time you move on to the next section, you’ve forgotten the details of what you’ve read before.

What’s the quote about doing one thing well, or a lot of things halfway?

Doing multiple intense passes on your manuscript will require time and focus. This is not a quick-fix approach. You will need to draw upon patience and dedication, but your manuscript is worth it, right?

Revise, Edit, Polish

The following approach employs three steps: Revise, Edit, Polish. If you like acronyms, you can call it the REP system.  Ideally, you have a completed draft that needs to be reviewed. To get it into shape for submission or publication, you will read and rework it three times, from beginning to end.

Today’s post will discuss Step #1: REVISE

The first pass is to examine the manuscript as a story. Some writers call this a global review. Others call it reading like a reader. The point of this first pass is, foremost, to make sure the story works. You will read with the goal of finding weaknesses and/or omissions, and make notes on how to repair them.

For the Revision pass, you’ll need to view it as your Internal Storyteller and read without stopping to edit. Turning off your Internal Editor may be difficult, but  it is temporary. You can indulge the itch to delete, fix, correct, in Step 2. Your Editor is waiting in the wings, but this is your Storyteller’s crack at the manuscript.

 How to do a Revision pass:

A Revision pass will take on the big picture questions:

~ Does the MS have all the necessary parts to insure the plot makes sense?

~ Is there conflict-climax-resolution?

~ Do characters act consistently?

~ Is every scene grounded in a specific place?

~ Does the reader have all necessary background info on place, character, events?

~ Does the plot move forward in a logical way?

~ Do all subplots and secondary storylines support the primary plot?

~ Does every scene have a purpose pertinent to the plot?

~ Does the story make sense?

~ Is the story saying something?

Reviewing for the big picture items means you ignore smaller issues (typos) and mechanics (grammar and style.) Every time you stop to correct a typo or rewrite a sentence, you pull yourself out of the story. Your focus moves out of the world you have created back into the real world. So, ignore the writing. Those typos won’t dissolve on their own. Those sentences will still be poorly constructed or dull tomorrow. That’s the next task. You may have to grit your teeth and sit on your hands at first but, with practice, turning off the Internal Editor is a useful skill.

To Revise, stay in the world of your story. Pretend you are hearing the story and can’t see the errors. Be a Storyteller.

For the Revision pass,  first I recommend you read through without making any changes to the manuscript. You can do this on a screen or paper. Keep a notebook or document and record concerns as you go along; use Track Changes to record your questions/concerns in comment bubbles; color highlight parts that clearly need to be reworked.

Read through from beginning to end, noting what you need to note as you go along. Don’t stop to make changes. Read it as a story.

Some questions will be small scale: Do I clear up why she asks about the motel receipt (page 4)? Do I explain how he got this fear of heights (chapter 11)?

Some will be bigger: Is what happened to her when she was 7 traumatic enough to affect her adult decisions? Does his abruptness to his sister make him look like a jerk? Do I need to explain the history of the mill? Does my killer have a valid revenge motivation? Is this detective incompetent because I’ve developed him as hostile and close-minded, or is he bumbling around foolishly because I need to give my amateur sleuth time to sneak around? Are clues glaringly obvious?

Some will be about structure: Is the inciting incident big enough to set up the climax? Is there a constant increase of tension? Does my plot flat line in Act 2? Is the plot too linear? Does this need some umph or humor or a second focus? Do all events happen in a sensible order, or are my scenes bouncing around in time?

After a read-only pass with notes and highlights, go back and make the necessary changes. That question about the motel receipt on page 6? Maybe you resolved it after all on page 229. Your character’s surprising ability to use a welding torch reads like a Hail Mary skill because, oops, you forgot to show earlier that he worked repairing hulls when he was in the Navy.

This making changes part is hefty work. Your Revision read-through may take a couple of days. Your Revision work may take weeks. Nobody said it was fast or easy.

As an independent editor, I read dozens of manuscripts a year. I depend on that first story-only read to let me see what the author is trying to achieve, and how well he/she achieves it. As an editor, I read once for story, viewing it from the Storyteller’s perspective. I focus on the story and only the story. I make notes as I describe above. After that, i go into the manuscript and make revision notes. With my own writing, I use this same process.

To reiterate, Step 1 – Revise is the Storyteller’s turn at the story. Immersing yourself in the story and the story world – without the distraction of technique or technical errors – will help you to see the full landscape of the tale you’ve written. Was it enjoyable to read? Did you get bored? Did it meander? Did it end too quickly? Did it end twice? Did the beginning and the end mirror, contradict, or have nothing to do with one another?

After you’ve read through, made notes, and gone back in to revise, your manuscript is ready for review on the next level: Editing. The Editing pass reviews the manuscript for language—how it is written. That means grammar, style, syntax, and finally, typos. Your Internal Editor will get to come out and do his/her happy dance.

Tune in tomorrow for Step #2  – Editing.