How to take your finished manuscript to the next level
When I was writing my memoir, it seemed as if the editing process would last a lifetime. When I finally felt as if my manuscript was ready to send out to the world, I took the advice of agent Don Maass and applied one final editing technique. The results were pretty remarkable. I highly recommend this process for all writers whether you’re a beginner or a published professional.
Here’s how it works: When you think you’re done with your manuscript, take a handful of pages (20 to 30) and throw them up in the air. Repeat until the entire manuscript is scattered across your floor. Then randomly gather the pages into one big pile.
Now, go through your manuscript page by page (still out of order). As you read each page, find a way to do these two things per page:
1. Add micro-tension to one line. Micro-tension can be subtle. I remember on one of my pages, I simply had my character tap the face of her watch to add some tension to the scene.
2. Heighten one line. Hyperbolize it. Maass, who also teaches writing workshops, explains that in good fiction things are generally heightened—we don’t want purple overwritten prose but we do want slightly heightened writing that makes our stories vivid and exciting.
He says that when someone says, “she’s a good writer,” it’s often only a few good lines in each scene that give the book that effect. So, if we were to add micro-tension to one line and heighten another line in a 300-page manuscript, that adds up to 600 minor improvements that over the course of a book can make a pretty major impact on the reader.
When I did this to my completed manuscript, I found that reading it out of order really helped me see things more clearly. Normally, when we edit, we read our pages in order. Our brain knows what’s coming next and we tend to glaze over (at least this was my experience after I’d edited it so many times). But when we read the pages out of order, it wakes us up. Our brain doesn’t know what’s coming next so we pay more attention to the details in front of us.
Plus, throwing all my pages up in the air was FUN! I did it in a beautiful ocean-front condo on my favorite island, Kaui, on New Year’s Eve. After I threw my pages in the air and my husband helped me collect them, we celebrated with a glass of champagne on the roof of our rented condo. What a great memory! I can’t wait to finish my next book so I can do the same thing. Hawaii here I come…