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Try this revision tip: Cut up your manuscript

After you’ve spent months and even years working on a manuscript, it can be hard to see the trees for the forest or the forest for the trees, to use a woodsy, Pacific Northwest kind of saying.

That’s when I go back to a practice I learned from one of my MFA writing advisors. In one of our group meetings, we all cut up pages of our manuscript into strips and rearranged the paragraphs and sentences to see if our stories flowed better.

Genius artist Michelangelo once said about his work: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

I’m currently working on another round of memoir revisions. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve worked on it, I always feel too close to it to be as objective as I’d like. Something about physically cutting strips of sentences and paragraphs and moving them around gives me a new perspective. It also feels different from just reading the printed pages and making notes, although that’s part of revision strategy. Read my last blog post, Critique your manuscript with this checklist, to learn more.

Here’s one way to go about cutting up your manuscript:

1. Save your manuscript as a separate document. This is so that you can revert back or can refer back to the original to compare how it all flows.

2. Print the pages you’ll work with first. Start with a few sections. Read through each section to estimate how you’ll cut it up into chunks. Circle the paragraph or paragraphs, depending on how you’re doing it, so you’ll know where you’re going to cut.

3. Number the chunks before you cut. This helps when you go back to move the paragraphs around on your computer because you can see where each section starts and ends, and it will be easier to navigate your online document during cutting and pasting.

Try this for multiple sections of your manuscript and see how it feels and how it flows.

What are your favorite revision techniques?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great tip! I think memoir is especially difficult to edit because, as you say, you are too close to it. I do something similiar within Word without printing anything out. Moving just one sentence can change the whole feel of the paragraph.

    February 8, 2013
    • You are so right Jolene. I’ve found in editing myself and others that just flipping paragraphs around will fix flow, logic, and clarity issues. Thanks for reading onewildword!

      February 8, 2013

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