Writers have always struggled with determining the best ways to edit and clean up the ever-changing drafts of their work. Thankfully, the proliferation of personal computers has made it very easy for writers to reposition or remove a paragraph, fix a typo, or substitute one adjective for another. Goodbye, Wite-Out; hello, point and click! But even with today’s technology, it can sometimes be difficult to make sense of your notes and keep track of the changes you made. The formatting and proofreading experts here at Writer’s Relief know the best ways to clean up a messy draft—and we’re sharing those tips with you!
Tips And Tricks To Clean Up A Messy Draft
Take a Break: This may seem counterproductive—how will stepping away from your work help with editing? But it’s true. Trying to edit your work too soon will yield far fewer results. Sometimes you need to remove yourself from the first draft and ease the emotional connection to your writing. Putting your writing aside for a few hours, days, or even weeks will allow your brain and your eyes time to reset. Take a walk, watch a movie, or read something another author wrote. Then, when you comb through your work to look for loose ends and rework awkwardly worded sentences, it will be with the eyes of an editor instead of a writer!
Don’t Get Stuck: Writers tend to overwrite and over-edit. Don’t get mired in an issue that doesn’t immediately offer an easy solution. You can spend a lot of time rewriting paragraphs, moving words around, adjusting sentences for punctuation…and the number of changes you might make may seem unending.
Areas of your first draft may have problems for different reasons: the wrong wording or too many words, incorrect punctuation, order of events…any number of things. If something doesn’t seem quite right, but you can’t place your finger on why, don’t spend hours obsessing—note it and move on. When you come back to it later, the answer might be instantly clear! This method of editing your draft is more efficient and effective.
Color Coordinate: Mark the changes you’re thinking of making to your drafts in ways that are specific and easy to identify. For example: Not sure if you want to say “horrible, slimy green monster” or “horrible, slimy, bubblegum-pink monster”? Notes about changes to word choice can all be in blue. Then, when you’re reviewing your work and see the color blue, you’ll know exactly how to approach this possible change. Do the same for other categories of changes: typos and grammar in traditional red, adding/moving a paragraph could be in green. Most word processing software will let you make notes in color as well as add comments in the margins.
Standardize Your Methods: Whether you decide to use color-coordinated notes, highlighters, or sticky notes—or prefer to arrange the pages of your manuscript on your living room floor—choose a system that makes sense for your style of editing and use it consistently. If you begin editing your document by noting typos in red, don’t change to purple halfway through. Or, if you print out your work to edit, don’t make some changes on the printed pages and others in the document file on your computer. Editing in a standardized manner is just as important as writing in one! And be sure to consistently format your work according to publishing industry standards.
Save Your Drafts: When you’ve finished your rewrite, don’t delete the original file or toss the previous messy draft in the trash. Keep careful track of the different versions of your work: Place them in folders and label them clearly. Then, if you ever need to refer back to a previous draft, you know exactly where to find it. Sometimes, after you make a change, you may realize you prefer the original version. Or you may inadvertently cut out a sentence or paragraph that changes the meaning of something else. Having a record of the changes you made will make it easy to go back to earlier versions to retrieve information and ideas. You may even find the seeds of a new story, poem, or book in the elements you’ve removed from this manuscript!
Cleaning up a messy draft is an important step on the road to ultimately submitting your work for publication. Proofread, edited, and properly formatted writing has better odds of holding the interest of readers and editors. If you need proofreading or formatting assistance, take advantage of our services to make the process even easier!
Question: How do you keep track of edits in your draft?
Very helpful. Thank you.