Posted On March 9, 2012 by Print This Post

The Best Way to Edit, by Tracy Sumner

Good morning, RU! Today, we have author Tracy Sumner joining us. Tracy explains her “wacky” editing process and how authors need to find the way that works best for them. And not apologize about their method to producing a clean manuscript!

Welcome, Tracy!

Have you ever wondered what the best way to edit is? Have you asked your writer friends and gotten a thousand different answers? Some choose to speed through the first draft, then find themselves in major revision mode. Others write five pages or so, then edit, then move ahead with the story.

I’m here to tell you that the title of this post, The Best Way to Edit, is a bit deceitful on my part because there is NO best way to edit.

Really? Read on.

Editing is a crucial part of the creative process. Yes, the creative process. At least I’ve always felt it was part of my creative process. Getting the story on paper is great…but when we go back, we’re still creating. I’m not talking about checking for spelling and grammatical errors. When I rewrite, I often add layers to my novel (characterization or setting details, for example), review to ensure I’ve established character properly, consistently and while staying in character. J I look for use of the five senses in each scene and watch for telling instead of showing. These are all crucial pieces of the final manuscript that simply may not make it into the first draft.

Editing does require us to switch gears as writers and forces us to review our work with a critical eye. This can be hard. How does Stephen King refer to it? You must be able to kill your “little darlings”. I’ve almost cried while scrapping a scene I loved or a line of dialogue I spent hours crafting. But, there is nothing like the flow of a tightly constructed scene. I tend to overwrite, so editing always involves a scrap file for me. And, yes, I keep the scraps! I can’t really throw them away entirely. 🙂

There are many methods you can employ. Some suggestions that seemed to come up again and again when I polled writers for this post:

  • Read the entire novel out loud to hear the flow,
  • Have another writer read it,
  • Proof separately for spelling, characters consistency and sentence length, etc.,
  • Keep a list of your most common overused words and check for these (I do this!),
  • Proof not only online – print a copy and proof (I do this, too!),
  • Separate writing and editing sessions by a few hours,
  • Read something else between these sessions, for a clear mind,
  • Listen to music.

Seriously, I received so many tips and tricks! Some were actually really funny. (I didn’t include those.) But it’s safe to say that the end game is a clean, well-edited manuscript. If you chose to do edit after midnight on Tuesdays, well, you may not get the novel completed very quickly, but if you get there, you get there.

My method is the write, revise, write, revise. I would love to speed through a draft and then revise like hell, but I seem to need to go back a few pages before I start a new writing day. But the good news is, my first draft is fairly clean. I do, at that time, add layers. And I actually like editing, which makes me insane I realize.

And don’t forget the famous line when you’re in there hating the editing process: There is no good writing, only good re-writing!


Thanks, Tracy! Writers, how do you edit? What process has worked the best for you?

On Monday, author ATHENA GRAYSON takes the mystery out of QR codes.



Tracy Sumner’s story telling career began when she picked up a copy of LaVyrle Spencer’s Vows on a college beach trip. A journalism degree and a thousand romance novels later, she decided to try her hand at writing a southern version of the perfect love story. With a great deal of luck and more than a bit of perseverance, she sold her first novel to Kensington Publishing.

When not writing sensual stories featuring complex characters and lush settings, Tracy can be found reading romance, snowboarding, watching college football and figuring out how she can get to 100 countries before she kicks (which is a more difficult endeavor than it used to be with her four-year-old son in tow). After stops in France, Switzerland and Taiwan, she now lives in the south. However, after spending a few years in “the city”, she considers herself a New Yorker at heart.

Tracy has been awarded the National Reader’s Choice, the Write Touch and the Beacon – with finalist nominations in the HOLT Medallion, Heart of Romance, Rising Stars and Reader’s Choice. Her books have been translated into German, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish. She loves hearing from readers about why she tends to pit her hero and heroine against each other and that great novel she simply must order in five seconds on her Kindle.


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20 Responses to “The Best Way to Edit, by Tracy Sumner”

  1. Tracy–

    Welcome to RU! So nice to have you join us. I’m a write-revise-write-revise girl, too. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t push through the first draft if I know something’s wrong in the previous pages. I don’t want to keep building on something that doesn’t work. To me, it feels inefficient and a waste of words. Maybe there’s a way to work around the problem without fixing it??? Would love to hear how folks deal with this.


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | March 9, 2012, 4:51 am
  2. I love this post- it touches on something I was thinking about this morning.
    No matter how many times you read about it, there are no set rules when it comes to things like this in writing!
    Thanks for the list, too. It’s nice to have reminders that there’s more than one way to do these things.

    Posted by Kelly Wolf | March 9, 2012, 8:12 am
  3. Morning Tracy!

    I’m a run-through-the-first-draft-then-revise kinda gal. I tried write, revise, write, revise and never got past the third chapter. Then I discovered nanowrimo. bam! I finished the book for once! I find if I make a mistake in the first draft I leave myself a note to “fix this later” and keep on going with the new information. I’ve now finished two books this way.


    Thanks for a great post – and the great list – it’s a keeper!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | March 9, 2012, 8:43 am
  4. Tracy – great post!

    I am smack-dab in the middle of my first round of edits with my publisher and I’ve already learned so much. I find that i need to do it all in passes – story structure, character, then more details.

    it’s that big elephant – one bite at a time!


    Posted by Robin Covington | March 9, 2012, 9:23 am
  5. Thanks for all the tips and tricks – I’ve heard some of these ideas, but not all. I’ll have to give them a shot!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | March 9, 2012, 9:48 am
  6. Great post – thanks for sharing your editing process, Tracy!

    I very much enjoy editing because it’s when I “flavor” my novel with the fun stuff. When I’m stuck on how to do it, I find that doing mundane household chores make the creative ideas flow. A half-hour on my treadmill also helps me. I usually go straight to my computer to jot down all the ideas!

    Posted by Sophia Knightly | March 9, 2012, 10:06 am
  7. Tracy –

    Thanks so much for being at RU today! I’ve revised and/or edited several manuscripts over the past five years, and I’ve found my process is a bit different each time.

    Any advice for someone who doesn’t love this part of the writing process?


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | March 9, 2012, 10:14 am
  8. Great post, Tracy! I do every one of these, except print a copy and make a list of overused words. I probably won’t print my chapters, because I make too many changes along the way. However, I’ll definitely adopt the habit of writing down my overused words. Thanks!

    About reading out loud: my husband reads my chapters to me, which is immensely helpful. If he stumbles over a section, I know something’s not right. Plus, I’m lucky he’s a good speller and has an eye for details, because he spots the mistakes I miss. I’d recommend this technique to any fellow writer.

    Posted by Alyson Reuben | March 9, 2012, 10:14 am
  9. Thanks Tracy & Tracey

    My deal;

    Once I see that I’ve made a mistake, I cease writing, fix, then re-read. I may reread a chapter 4/5 times before I’m satisfied enough to move on to the next. And even then, that chapter will need many more revisions as the story progresses.

    I once read not to stop and revise until the end of a MS, as the interruption hinders the flow. I couldn’t imagine ignoring those mistakes, as it would hinder my thought process. I find, revising/rereading as I go, allows what I’ve just written to be anchored more firmly in my mind, therefore, taking more knowledge with me to the next scene.

    Having said that, it doesn’t mean that when I come to the long awaited ending that I’m finished. I wish. Now I give it a good reread out loud, (maybe twice). This method allows me to find those awkward sections I seem to skip over when skimming silently through. Don’t even ask how many times I revised this!

    Think I’ll revise this and post to my budding website.

    Posted by Lisa Collicutt | March 9, 2012, 10:43 am
  10. Thanks for the welcome! Kelsey, your question is a great one. The way it works for me is I mentally prepare myself for the editing process by realizing that the first draft is simply that: A DRAFT. And what you can add during this process is amazing. Characterization, details of setting and scene, layering. It’s not simply a chance to check for misspellings. It should be much more than that — a chance to truly craft your manuscript.

    I think the end game is more important that having a formalized process. We want the most beautiful novel possible to come from the editing process. But, there is also the thought that sometime, it has to go.

    Posted by Tracy Sumner | March 9, 2012, 11:16 am
  11. Hi Tracy!

    I learn more about my story and my writing during the editing process. It’s messy, unorganized and bloody, especially when I delete entire chapters, but the end result is a cleaner, leaner read.

    Thanks for being with us today.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | March 9, 2012, 3:32 pm
  12. A great post Tracy. When I write my essays and my medical papers, I write and edit as I go. I liked that one, read something else and then come back to it. And yeah! listen to music then tackle it again!

    Posted by Riya | March 9, 2012, 3:43 pm
  13. Thank you for inviting me to Romance University!

    Posted by Tracy Sumner | March 9, 2012, 4:39 pm
  14. Tracy, thanks for joining us today. Really happy to have you here.

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | March 9, 2012, 10:01 pm


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