Give yourself a break. Don’t try to write and edit in the same session. The two jobs are very different, and trying to switch back and forth can drive you crazy and make you think that there’s something wrong with a section that in fact is perfectly fine.
Give it a rest. Let your writing sit for a few days, if you can—without looking at it—before you try to decide what’s good and not-so-good about it. The more distance from the writing, the more able you’ll be to forget the wonderful things you were thinking while you wrote it and look at it from the reader’s perspective.
Use hard copy. A few rare people can edit efficiently on the computer screen, but for most of us the words have more reality when they’re printed on paper. It’s more final and more important—and difficulties (not only typos but story problems) stand out more clearly in a hard copy.
Read it fast. When in doubt about whether a story is working, lock up your pens and just read it straight through. You’re trying to absorb the whole story so that inconsistencies and plot holes can’t elude you. I often take the manuscript onto the treadmill—since I can’t make notes while I’m walking, I’m forced to just read, without fiddling and getting distracted by details.
Record it. The act of reading a section aloud will tell you whether your dialogue is natural (if it isn’t, you’ll find yourself changing the words, or else you’ll feel stiff). Listening to the tape will help you tell if the story pacing is good, if the characters are likeable, and if the point of view is straight. If you were listening to this tale as you drove across country, would it keep you on your toes or put you to sleep?
Get out your colored markers. The more the merrier. Highlight dialogue with one color, introspection with another, narrative with a third, attributions with a fourth, description with a fifth. You’ll quickly see whether you’ve overdone the story-telling, internalization, attribution, or description, and whether the proportions of the manuscript are right. If there’s a lot of dialogue in the first half but less in the last half, you may have shifted from showing your story to telling it.
State your conflict in one sentence. What exactly do your hero and heroine disagree about? If you can’t state their major reason for opposition succinctly, you may have a lack of conflict or a misunderstanding instead of a real conflict.
State your force in one sentence. What’s keeping them from walking out on each other? Why do they need each other?
Keep a time sheet. The longer I work on a section of the story, the more boring it seems. But sometimes it’s not the action that’s getting tired, it’s just me getting tired of the action because it’s been taking up so much of my time. By keeping track of the actual time I spend on each scene, I can keep myself from getting discouraged when the story doesn’t move along as fast as I’d like.
copyright 2002 Leigh Michaels