by Laura Garwood, Collaborative EditorLaura Garwood

Developmental editing is fun! I love reading and solving the complex problems presented by the manuscript. And often, especially once they’ve had time to process and start in, authors love receiving these edits. But at first—well, at first, lots of authors feel overwhelmed.

Many people don’t love the idea of revision. And when you get a manuscript back with a suggestion like, “What if you combined these two characters into one?” plus another saying, “Hey, what if we trim those first four chapters and start this book in Tahiti instead of in New York?” you can feel a little dazed.

But don’t worry! Starting is the hard part. Most of us, once we’re really engaged in revisions, find that the work has a way of flowing along.** And here are some tips for beginning your job:

  • Skim through the manuscript soon after you get it back. Look at the changes and suggestions. Don’t do anything yet. Just get an idea of the larger landscape.
  • Put the manuscript away. Eat dinner. Go on a walk. Let a little time pass while you digest and think—but not too much time. Don’t let yourself officially start avoiding it—this will make it harder to sit down and get to work. If a lot of time has passed, do that first review again. Give yourself a cookie for starting.
  • Get your manuscript back out and scan the edits again, more intentionally. Which parts of the book need more work than the rest? Did I notice the same problems you did? (This is often the case.) Did I suggest anything you were considering anyway? Did I come up with an idea that sounds like a good fix? Great! Do you have a better idea? Even better! Start to wrap your mind around the biggest things you need to do. Worry about the small stuff later.
  • You might consider taking notes as you go, and then, when you’ve written down what you need to address, circle the item you think you can attack first. Keep going with this. You may find that solving one of the problems solves another too. Or maybe you’ll find that solving one of the problems causes another. Don’t worry! Just add it to the list.
  • As you work, take breaks when you’re losing stamina. Give yourself plenty of time. Keep adding notes to that list—don’t lose steam by going back and continually revising the same section (often the beginning of the book). Once you’ve made progress elsewhere, you can probably better assess if you really need to still work on that section.
  • If you need to delete a part you love, whether it’s a sentence or a chapter, remember that you can save it for another project. It doesn’t have to die, but if it’s not helping this project, set it aside.
  • Once you’ve addressed the larger issues, don’t forget cleanup—if you’ve left some plot lines or characters dangling, trim them off. If you moved something, make sure it still makes sense. Tell your line editor about the changes you have made so that he or she can keep an eye out for fragments.
  • You’re done! Have another cookie!

*Yes, this article’s title is from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
**Disclaimer: Sometimes revision is much more flowy than other times. Hang in there!

Laura Garwood is an experienced developmental editor, having worked on just about everything, including YA fantasy novels, fatherhood books, cozy mysteries, a wagon collector’s guide, and equine thrillers. She says she gets her problem solving skills sharpened while dealing with her host of children and pets.