Jerry Jenkins co-author of the Left Behind series and numerous other books, created the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild to help aspiring Christian authors grow their craft. I’ve been a member for years, and the mantra, “all writing is rewriting,” appears frequently. The more I write, the more I realize that nugget of wisdom is pure gold.

“Sit down and put everything that comes into your head, and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”   Colette, Casual Chance  1964 [1]

That’s so true. Every time I write something, and think it’s terrific, I let it marinate overnight and then re-read the mess the next day. Editing, which involves rewriting, besides adding or deleting commas, polishes a rough creation and sometimes slashes most of it. We mercilessly “kill our darlings” as the delete key becomes our friend. An author must become ruthless. “Take eloquence and wring its neck,” ( Paul Verlaine, ‘L’ Art poetique’). [2]

Don’t we want to be eloquent? No, we want to communicate in the clearest way possible, and not show off literary gymnastics. I think some good verbal communicators have difficulty transferring their thoughts to paper because they think, “I’m writing now, so I should use as many evocative (flowery) words as possible.” One or two powerful words will always trump several descriptive ones.

“A Thick-Skinned Manuscript Critique Clinic” features Jenkins editing a member’s submission, and is a regular workshop session online for members. His editor’s pen shreds the submission to the degree that three pages turn into 1 ½ pages, and nothing he crossed out needed to have been there. The result is powerful, succinct, and far easier for the reader to comprehend. Now that’s editing!

How I (and other writers) edit

1 After the mandatory marinating, I re-read it out loud or use the read aloud feature in Word. I prefer the Word feature because I occasionally read out loud what I think I wrote and not what I actually did. The mechanical voice has no such weakness. Those bloopers jump right out at me.

2  Next, I use the Pro-Writing Aid Program which scores my document on grammar, style, spelling, sentence length, overuse of “ing” verbs, passive vs active sentences, and much more.

3  I can produce an almost perfect manuscript by then, but that does not mean it’s any good or use to a reader. Enter my critique group. My Greece Writers Group has been meeting since 2008 and, of course we’ve become friends. Friends who, to quote a Christian admonition, “speak truth with love.”

“This section confused me.”

“I know Lou is angry, but I don’t feel it. Needs more emotion.”

“I LOVE this sentence!” (Yes, it happens sometimes.)

They will point out inconsistencies, holes in the plot line, their sense of my characters, and sometimes even act out a segment to show how I miss-wrote the action. We laugh a lot too, mainly at ourselves.

4  After they hand me their critiques, I rewrite once again, using about 98% of what my friends suggested.

5  Repeat steps 1 and 2.

Final steps

I’ll bet you thought I was done by now. Ha!

Writers are voracious readers and are friends with lots of other readers. Many belong to book clubs, or just like to hang around together. I asked three friends to read my book at this point and give me their opinions. These “beta” readers included my pastor and a friend who is also a prison chaplain. Given the The Divine Meddler’s themes, they evaluated my use of realism and theology. What do I know about the mind set of a middle-aged male murderer or prisoner? The other beta reader was an author/friend whose work I admire and enjoy.

Having passed muster with my betas, and following their suggestions, the book is now ready for …………………………editing again by a professional editor. As in, I pay for this before submitting to a publishing house or agent. Otherwise my manuscript may end up in the wastebasket after the acquisitions person reads it for maybe five minutes, tops. If  I skip the professional editing, and it makes it past the acquisitions editor anyway, the publishing house will assign me their editor, and I will edit the thing again, and under deadline.  

As I finish this blog, I realize we writers must be masochists. If this doesn’t do me in, building a writers platform for marketing to readers just might. This, I’m discovering, is a whole other world—but for me, it’s a challenge that double-dog dares me.

I’ll share those adventures in my next blog in Writers and Books.

[1] Wesley D. Camp, Camp’s Unfamiliar Quotations from 2000 B.C. to the Present, Prentice Hall, Inc 1990, p461

[2] IBID p 462