Skip to main content

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.

Click to continue.

Advice on Writing Characters From a Psychologist

Advice on Writing Characters From a Psychologist

Go deeper into the minds of your characters where motivation lives with this advice on writing characters from psychologist and author Rebecca Alexander.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Truth Denial

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Truth Denial

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character (or characters) deny the objective truth.

4 Questions To Ask When Writing Romantic Scenes

4 Questions To Ask When Writing Romantic Scenes

Whether you’re writing a romance novel or simply a romantic moment in your story, M.M. Crane poses 4 questions to ask yourself when writing romantic scenes.

Ben Acker: On Writing Scary Stories for Middle-Grade Readers

Ben Acker: On Writing Scary Stories for Middle-Grade Readers

Ben Acker discusses the joy of reading scary stories growing up that led him to write his new middle-grade horror collection, Stories to Keep You Alive Despite Vampires.

How Freelance Writers Are Using TikTok to Find Success

How Freelance Writers Are Using TikTok to Find Success

TikTok is one of the hotter social media platforms, but it's more than just BookTok. Author C. Hope Clark shares how freelance writers are using TikTok to find success.

Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman: On Trusting Each Other in the Co-Writing Process

Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman: On Trusting Each Other in the Co-Writing Process

Authors Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman discuss the experience of going from friends to writing partner with their new nonfiction book, Courageous Discomfort.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 628

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a reflection poem.

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: The Weight of Blood

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: The Weight of Blood

The editors of Writer’s Digest are proud to announce the next book club selection, The Weight of Blood, by New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson.

5 Tips for Writing a Medical Thriller

5 Tips for Writing a Medical Thriller

There are endless opportunities to build tension in medical thrillers. Here, Dr. Cristina LePort 5 tips for writing a medical thriller from the medical jargon to tying up loose ends.