Hand with pen 140If you’re like me, you need to use a variety of editing techniques to end up with a final draft you’re pleased with. That means spending a lot of time and effort, and I’m always looking for ways to make it faster and less painful. Here’s a trick you might find useful.

First, a note about the purpose of individual rounds of editing. I’m sure that everyone is different, but here’s what the cycle looks like for me after I finally have a first draft of the entire book done:

First round: I do this one at the keyboard, fixing as much as I can on the fly. That means everything from spotting and fixing structural issues (did this need to come before that?) to improving sentences.

Second round: Still on the keyboard, but this time reading aloud and focusing primarily on individual sentences, as well as picking up any mistakes I missed on the last pass (if I changed character names along the way, are they fixed consistently? are my word usages consistent? would they really have had time to get from here to there? and much more).

At this point, I change to a paper copy and pen. Even after working at a keyboard all day for my entire working career (as a lawyer) composing documents and endless email, I always catch an incredible number of additional issues every time I look at a paper copy, even though I’ve already proofread, revised and spell-checked on the screen. I have no idea why, but if you’ve never tried making this switch, you might want to do so and see if it works for you, too.

By this time, I’ve started to try to discipline myself to make only changes that are necessary rather than to add new ideas, text, and so on. Otherwise the process goes sideways rather than proceeding towards an eventual conclusion.

Third round: This one focuses most rigorously on getting the most out of every sentence, removing un-needed words, spotting the same word used twice too closely together, and generally trying to hunt down and eject all of the other scores of gremlins that have still eluded my notice

Fourth pass: Like the last, and intended to pick up anything I missed the last time. By the end of this pass, I assume that I’ve done as much as I can short of setting the draft aside for three months to read it with a fresher eye. But if I find that I made too many changes on this pass, I’ll consider going over it one more time. Either way, it’s now time to send it off to someone else to review.

The tip for today relates to those last two rounds, where I’ve scrawled less than ideally legible notes on the draft, and now need to painfully transcribe them into the electronic file without introducing any new errors in the process. Needless to say, this is a royal pain when you’re working with 125,000 words of text (which is one reason I tend to key in changes every day rather than leave job until I’ve made a complete pass through the draft).

In particular, it’s tough on the eyes and tedious trying to track each change to the right line of text, especially if you’ve made lots of changes and they’re scrawled here, there and everywhere in the margins.

Happily, there is a way to make this much easier, using a feature of Word (or whatever word processor you use) that you may have never noticed before: line numbering. When you use this feature, as well as convert your text to double spacing (if it isn’t already formatted that way) the task becomes far easier, provided that you take advantage of the double spacing to write your changes above the lines where they go.

The result is that transposing your edits becomes amazingly less difficult. Simply look at the number in the margin next to the text you’ve changed and find the same number in the margin of the text on your screen, and you’re immediately right where you need to be, assuming you follow one last tip: instead of starting to key in your edits at the beginning of a chapter, start at the end and work backwards. Otherwise, the changes you make will throw off the numbering of the rest of the chapter, defeating the entire purpose.

Figuring out how to display the line numbering function will depend on your word processor, but here’s how to do it in the current version of Microsoft Word:

1. Click on the little arrow in the bottom right corner of the “Page Layout” section of the Ribbon.

2. Click on the Layout Tab at the top of the box that opens.

3. Click on the “Line Numbers” box close to the bottom of the box.

4. Check the box that says “add line numbering”‘ (the default should be “restart each page,” which I think works best).

5.  Click the “OK” button at the bottom, and you should be on your way. If not, try Copy/Select All and then repeat the steps above.

You should now have line numbers running down the left margin of every page, on both the copy you print as well as on your screen. And a much easier editing experience as well.

If you have any tips to make the editing process less onerous, I’d be delighted if you’d share them below.




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