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Reverse Editing: How Going Backward Can Bring Your Manuscript Forward

When editing, it's easy to accidentally shift into reader mode, missing mistakes along the way. Author Kris Spisak offers a new way of thinking when tackling the editorial process.

When you’re reading your own writing, it’s easy for the “editor hat” to fall off your head. You know your own story so well. At times, you love it. At times, you hate it. At times, you’re absolutely absorbed by its possibilities. However, when you need to do your editing, you must find a way to keep that metaphorical “editor hat” securely fastened in place.

(Revise Your Draft in Waves to Inspire Your Flow and Productivity)

What’s the best way to catch more grammatical mistakes and typos than ever before, all while confidently staying away from just rereading your manuscript?

Enter a new revision technique: Reverse Editing.

Typos be warned, and grammatical slips be on guard, because savvy writers in editing mode will root you out. (And because the publishing world is more competitive than ever, oh, we must root them all out!)

Sure, the name of this “reverse editing” process sounds a bit backward, but I promise it will drive your manuscript forward like no other proofreading technique I know.

How Reverse Editing Works

Go to the last sentence of your first chapter. Read only that last sentence. Does it flow well, with no spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes? Wonderful!

Onward! Or should I say backward?

Next, read the second to last sentence (the “penultimate” sentence, I should say to you word lovers). Follow the same process. Check it, and then move one line back.

Keep going in this way. Does it feel odd? Perhaps. But reverse editing forces you to focus sentence by sentence. There is no way to accidentally fall into “reader mode,” realizing pages (or hours) later than you haven’t been doing your best editing work.

Instead, you’re limited by the bounds of a single sentence. Forget storytelling. Just focus on clarity and correctness. Line by line. Backward and backward. Until you reach the beginning and then stop (if I may flip a famous Lewis Carroll line on its head).

If you’re writing a short story or serialized fiction, reverse editing is a powerful final step before calling your piece “done.” If you’re writing a novel, reverse editing can be an intimidating beast, but if you know your grammar well, you can indeed find yourself with a more polished manuscript than ever before.

For those pitching your first ten pages, your first three chapters, or whatever shorter selection of your manuscript that a literary agent or publisher might request, consider how much stronger that beginning might be after a reverse edit. What better way of showing off your best than to closely double-check every single line for hidden flaws that somehow might remain in the page?

Reverse Editing: How Going Backward Can Bring Your Manuscript Forward

Yes, you can do a reverse edit of only those beginning selections for pitching purposes. No, I won’t tell, but I will remind you how essential a fully polished whole manuscript is when it’s asked for.

Admittedly, Reverse Editing should only be attempted in your latest editing phases. No other macro- or micro-editing tasks should still linger on your list at this point, because “reverse editing” is meant as a final sweep.

Let me repeat that, just in case anyone missed it.

Reverse Editing is not your first phase of revision. It should be your last.

Yet when you’re sitting in that “almost finished” state, when your novel has gone through the editing gauntlet of examining the big macro-editing questions and revising your manuscript in waves, having a strategy to get across that finish line can make all the difference.

Typos, punctuation blunders, and grammar snafus sometimes feel like the sneakiest little buggers, but you can conquer them all, as long as you’re paying attention. And pay attention you must.

Good luck with it, writers!

Grammar and Mechanics

Do you remember the difference between the 8 parts of speech and how to use them? Are you comfortable with punctuation and mechanics?No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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