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I’ve been helping a friend with revisions recently and found myself getting bogged down in the little stuff—punctuation, word placement, em dashes (crazy pet peeve of mine)! This is fine when it comes time for line edits, but when you’re looking at the grand scheme of a project, it can be time consuming and wasteful. I want to spend my time and efforts on something that will be helpful to her, not “fixing” little things that may get cut later.

So how does one approach revisions in a way that makes sense for both you the editor and your friend the writer?

Enter “editing by number”. It’s really nothing new. In fact, the roots of the idea come from Sol Stein. In his book Stein on Writing, he discusses revisions in terms of Triage care. Instead of revising from front to back, one is supposed to start with characters (motivations, arcs, conflict, etc) and then move onto evaluating scenes from least to most memorable. Overall it’s a fantastic approach, especially if you’re editing your own work. However, it becomes a tab bit difficult when dealing with a work you’ve never read before.

So I fudged a little and created my own tailored approach… including stars because, hey, I’m visual like that! Here goes…

Editing by Number

1. Print out the table of contents, basically a list of chapters with a little bit of space for notes.

2. Read the book from start to finish. I know. Not what Stein had in mind but it’s necessary to get an overall view of plot and characters with accompanying motivations and story arcs. But NO edits! Absolutely no wordsmithing. If there is something that is driving me crazy I make a BRIEF note but otherwise it’s full steam ahead through the chapter.

3. At the end of each chapter pause briefly to give the chapter a rating. That’s where the stars come in. Make it a number, a star, a balloon. Heck, give it 5 elephants for all I care! The idea is that you are rating the chapter somewhere between 1 (Throw it out) and 5 (Awesomesauce).

4. Add a FEW notes regarding why the chapter received said rating. Feedback should always include what worked and what didn’t. Otherwise the rating is meaningless.

5. Repeat.

There it is. That simple. Read. Rate. Write notes. Repeat. So far I’ve been able to make it through half a book in less than a day. When I am finished, both my friend and I will be able to see at a glance which chapters need intensive care and which can be left alone until line edits. Then, as she wants, I can delve into the individual chapters to offer detailed feedback and suggestions.

I’ve really enjoyed the process so far. It’s been much faster than my previous revision work and I feel like it makes the process and the pieces more manageable. It’s so much easier to focus on one chapter at time than to feel like you have a whole book screaming your name.

What do you think? Any tricks you’d add? How do you help your friends/crit partners with their revisions?