Posted On September 8, 2014 by Print This Post

When the Gazillionth Pass Through Your Manuscript Tries to Kill You by Heather Webb

How many drafts does it take for you to get your story the way you want it? Two? Ten? A gazillion? If option three rings a bell, this post is for you. Please welcome back regular RU columnist Heather Webb! 

Heather Webb Smiling

There are some who are lucky enough to write a novel and make it beautiful in two or three drafts. (Secretly, I loathe them. Why can’t I do that?!) Most of us, on the other hand, spend months and months, sometimes years, perfecting our works. By the time we’ve seen that story seven or eight or twenty times, not only are we too close to the story, but we may even hate it a little. How do we push through the weariness, bleariness, and general over-saturated brain fuzzies? Well, I like to:

Assign Parts, Read Aloud—Without doubt there is someone in your life who loves you (or at the very least is bribable), who will gladly practice reading troublesome scenes aloud with you. If that doesn’t work, read aloud and record your own voice. You’re bound to hear stilted, unnatural dialogue, pacing issues, and clunky phrasing.

Edit Chapters Out of Order—This is my favorite trick. Once I’ve swept through my story a hundred times, not only am I tired of it, but my eyes glaze over and I tend to anticipate the chain of events ahead rather than focusing on an aspect that needs fine-tuning. Reading chapters out of order prevents you from being swept away in the storyline. It gives you a new perspective—as if you’ve been dropped into the middle of the scene. To take this a step further, print out each chapter at a time. Reading type in ink really makes issues jump out from the page.

Read Other Books—When I’m frustrated and disgusted and fed up with my manuscript, the best cure is to read someone else’s beautifully crafted, or at least, highly entertaining novel. It takes me away, out of my head and into another realm. All of that research that says reading is directly correlated to writing skills is TRUE. You may find inspiration in someone else’s pages, or gain insight as to how to solve a craft issue. You may just be taking a much needed break. Don’t say you don’t have time. MAKE TIME. Reading fiction is the single most important way you can do to improve your craft.

Edit With Specifics in Mind—If you’re looking for one thing at a time, you’re more likely to narrow down an issue. Global edits are tough—it’s difficult to pinpoint smaller issues—and sets you up for failure. The character’s arc is weak? Buzz through the manuscript and highlight the exact moments the character changes. There should be a steady progression so that when the big finale comes in the end, there’s a WABAM climax moment of clarity/change in perspective/ shift in behavior. Perhaps the voice isn’t as strong as it can be. This is a perfect time to read your pages aloud. Hearing the characters thoughts and feelings fill a room can really help you get a grip on who that character is and what they should sound like.

Solicit a New, Strong Reader—Sometimes all you need is a fresh take from someone who knows nothing about the project. They may be able to point out exactly what’s missing or needs attention. (Editors are great for this as well. *Wink* *Wink* But so are seasoned writers.)

Let it Rest—This is by far the best idea and the advice you will hear most often. But it works. Distance makes the heart grow fonder and the vision clearer and all that. Take a breather. Let the elements of the story soak into your brain and stew in their magical way. You’ll come back to your manuscript a little calmer, less likely to set it on fire, and with a clearer idea of where you need to take it. If you’re under deadline this is much harder, but stepping away for even a day and doing something you love to fill the well can be incredibly useful.

None of those work for you? Take out your stick out and BEAT IT INTO SUBMISSION.  You can do this. You WILL do this. You are not a whiner, or a quitter, or a talentless hack. Now get to work on that manuscript! Shine it up and make me proud.


How do you approach a book you’re sick to death of editing?

Author and Romance Bandit JEANNE ADAMS joins us Wednesday.


Bio: As a freelance editor, Heather spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found twittering helpful links, sharing writing advice and author interviews on her blog Between the Sheets, or teaching novel writing in her community. Her favorite haunts are right here at the fabulous Romance and the award-winning

Her first women’s historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE released to much acclaim in Jan 2014 and her second, RODIN’S LOVER, releases from Plume/Penguin as a lead title in 2015.

Visit her website: or find her on Twitter @msheatherwebb

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23 Responses to “When the Gazillionth Pass Through Your Manuscript Tries to Kill You by Heather Webb”

  1. Great tips, Heather. I never thought about editing chapters out of order. I’m going to try that!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | September 8, 2014, 9:32 am
  2. Morning Heather!

    Awesome post! My favorite is to read the printed out pages. That for some reason makes a lot of difference. Also, sometimes I try to act out a scene that isn’t working just to find that there’s no way the hero’s arm could be both here AND there…lol.

    I will have to try reading out loud with the dialogue…I’m sure that helps a bunch too!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 8, 2014, 9:41 am
  3. I never edited chapters out of order either. That sounds like something I’m going to try.

    Posted by Mercy | September 8, 2014, 10:00 am
  4. Oh man, this hits a little too close to home for comfort. Well, I’m definitely following two of your recommendations: reading other books and letting it rest. I like your idea of editing chapters out of order – I’ll definitely give that a try!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 8, 2014, 11:35 am
  5. Hi Heather! Editing chapters out of order… that’s something I’ve never tried. Thanks for the tip.

    Posted by Susan | September 8, 2014, 1:53 pm
  6. Great blog – very timely for me.

    I’m reworking a novel that is fairly uneven. Only last week, for the first time, I started editing chapters out of order. Wow! That’s a powerful approach.

    I’ve printed this and put in the binder where I’m collect the hard copies of chapters as I print them. Thanks, Heather, for the excellent pointers.

    Posted by Maggie Bolitho | September 8, 2014, 2:53 pm
  7. I needed this kick in the pants today – each pass has been more daunting that the last. I think I’m on my gazillionth round of edits right now.

    I read in between rounds to try to help clear my head before diving back in. I’ve also started reading aloud and have been looking for specific weaknesses in dialogue and characters.

    I haven’t tried editing chapter out of order, I may try that if I have to go to a gazillion and one rounds – or maybe wait for my next MS.

    Posted by Desiree Cox | September 8, 2014, 3:21 pm
    • Atta girl! Keep at it. You’ll get it there, yet. And if you aren’t under deadline, you may want to start outlining/plotting your next novel to clean the slate. It’s difficult to get anywhere sometimes when we’re so fatigued by the story.

      Posted by Heather Webb | September 8, 2014, 6:14 pm
  8. Hi Heather!

    I write chapters out of order when I get stuck. Somehow, it helps me hash out a previous chapter and in a weird way, improves the continuity of the story. I haven’t tried editing chapters this way but it makes sense in my world.

    A combo of reading other books and working on something else really helps when I feel like torching the current ms.

    Thanks for another useful post!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 8, 2014, 3:31 pm
    • Jennifer, I’ve never tried writing out of order. I’m so linear it scares me a bit. I’m always afraid I’ll get repetitive and/or lose this sort of internal rhythm I have. That’s amazing it works well for you. Maybe I’ll give it a shot sometimes.

      Posted by Heather Webb | September 8, 2014, 6:17 pm
  9. Thanks so much for a great post and for hanging out with us today! Have a great week!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 8, 2014, 11:15 pm
  10. I am one of those people you hate . As a plotter, by the time the first draft is done, the book is well pretty much done. Run through a writing tool, and add in my final reader’s comments. Let it sit and simmer then have the computer read back to me as I follow along on hardcopy.

    I have never edited chapters out of sequence, but it sounds like a great idea. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Posted by Helen Henderson | September 11, 2014, 2:13 pm


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