Editing Tip # 4: Edit Backwards to Improve your Editing Efficiency

Editing is all about trying to see the story that’s on the page, not the story in your head. You can attain greater objectivity by changing the font or not looking at your story for a few weeks, but when it comes to the actual changing of the words, there’s another trap many writers fall into. The trap is that you’ll simply skim through your chapters, changing maybe one word a page, and reach the end feeling like you’ve accomplished something. In reality, you’ve probably made your story only slightly better. As busy writers, slightly better isn’t a great result for the amount of time you’ve used.

Fear not! There is a better way: Instead of editing the way you read, edit backwards.

Huh?

Before you get carried away and try to read your 100 000 word tome in reverse order, let me clarify how to use this technique.

  1. Go to the bottom of chapter 1.
  2. Read through the last paragraph the normal way (forwards), and edit this last paragraph.
  3. Go to the above paragraph. Read and edit it.
  4. Repeat.

Why This Works:

If you read from start to end, you’re likely to be skim reading your novel. Skim reading is great when you want to gain a quick overview, but has no place in the word-ripping, sentence-snapping, paragraph-breaking business of editing. Chances are an hour of forward-edit will make little improvement to your novel, as it’s so easy to start scanning through your manuscript.

By reading backwards, each paragraph becomes its own entity. This lets you see your novel on a micro (rather than macro) level. No longer will you skip past paragraphs or think that one great sentence makes up for the garbage that is the following paragraph. You’ll gain the objectivity to root out sneaky redundancies, cut your pet phrases and identify proofreading errors. An hour of backwards will deliver far more results than an hour of forward-editing, because you’re less likely to lose focus when you backwards-edit.

Speaking from experience, I’ve found reverse-editing a highly effective proofreading method when editing The Aeon Academy. There’s something about editing backwards that lets you see your story in a new light, and anything you can do to gain objectivity will make your editing far more effective.

Have you tried to edit backwards? How did it work out? If not, do you think you’ll try a reverse-edit in the future? What are your other favourite editing methods? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Photo credit: emiliokuffer via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

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4 thoughts on “Editing Tip # 4: Edit Backwards to Improve your Editing Efficiency

  1. I’ve never heard this before! I’ll have to give it a try next time I’m wanting to do a micro-edit. I think it’s important to note that this should be saved for later editing – your first pass should focus on plot and character arcs and such, not on paragraph/sentence structure. But wow, cool blog and cool idea. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Beth! Glad to have helped! I certainly agree with you – this is more of a later-draft edit for when you want to polish and proofread your manuscript. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  2. Joan H.

    Hi Jed:
    I like to use the Search & Replace feature of Word for repetitious type errors or to find repeats of words or phrases or use of cliches.
    My first run always involves searching out all the “it” words and upgrading them to something concrete. Sometimes that results in searching for the appropriate adjective, pronoun or noun to replace what “it” stands for.
    I like the newly-found site of yours!
    Joan H.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Joan! That’s a great way to tighten up your prose – I’m also a big fan of using the Search & Replace to fix errors in my manuscript. You’re quite right – ‘it’ can usually be changed to something more interesting as it lacks meaning per se. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

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