5 Tips from Editors: Know Where Your Story Starts


Whether you’ve just finished the first draft or you’re polishing the final version of a manuscript, editing is an essential step in preparing your writing for the public. To make editing slightly less painful (it doesn’t have to be like pulling teeth!), we reached out to a group of pro editors for their tips. Get out your red pens and highlighters, and take heart – you’re not in this alone.

Caitlin Rosberg (Ladies’ Night Anthology and writer for The A.V. Club):
The biggest, most important #1 tip for any writer: find out if the editor/publication has a format they want their pitches in. Follow that format. Do not deviate from it. If you have questions about if your work is eligible to pitch, ask! Don’t just submit something that “might” fit.

Hilary Zaid (Baker Street Editors):
I’m sure this has been said a million times, but it’s worth repeating: a story must (and fairly quickly) answer the question “Why now?” Whether it’s because there’s suddenly a corpse in the living room or because the narrator just sniffed a Madeleine, the story needs to tell us why this is the moment it begins. If a writer can’t locate the reason, it can be a clue that the manuscript is taking too long to find the story – or hasn’t found it yet.

Jen McDonald (Editor, formerly at The New York Times Book Review):
Put it away: The best way to see your manuscript clearly is with fresh eyes. And to cultivate those fresh eyes, you need distance. Some writers lock their work in a drawer for six months. Some need only a few weeks. I personally like to have at least a month, if deadlines allow — but even a few days can make a difference.

Next, retype the whole thing: This is a great technique for the early stages of revision, when — let’s be frank — you shouldn’t be too attached to your writing anyway. Print out your work, grab a favorite pen, find a comfortable place to sit, and start reading. Mark up your work on paper. Then, begin a new document, and retype everything from scratch. Everything. Incorporate your pen-on-paper changes as you go. As you type, you’ll most likely discover further opportunities for revision: new rhythms, new lines of dialogue, new choices of verbs, new cuts and transitions.

Rosamund Lannin (Story Club Magazine and Miss Spoken):
Read your story aloud a few times, even if you’re not performing it (but especially if you are). Text on a page can make sense when you’re writing, but reading it aloud reveals what sounds good, how something should flow. Don’t be afraid to ditch words you might be in love with, but aren’t serving the story’s pace and clarity.

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