thoughts on red pens

I think I may have made it clear I can be a bit impatient when it comes to editing. Many of the articles here are written for my own benefit. Nothing, in my opinion, is more time consuming than red pen editing. But although it feels counterproductive to physically print your manuscript, read it, mark it up, then go back to your document and make all the changes you just made, it also is pretty much the most important editing tool you have, especially in late stage drafts.

I have heard frequently that you should red pen your first draft. I disagree. You’re still close to your first draft. You’re still sympathetic. You still really like those four pages of backstory on Persephone’s cat and how it caught a mouse when she was in third grade.

Make your initial changes in the document. Then, after you get feedback, make some slightly more brutal changes. At this point, give it to your beta readers. Let it out to the world. You will feel like it’s almost finished. When you get it back, you will realize it is totally not.

This is when I feel it’s most effective to red pen. At this point, you have been editing for probably a few months and you know the story inside and out. You won’t be getting distracted by the brilliance of what you have written anymore.

You will likely be a little irritated with the manuscript now for still having so many flaw.

Now the red pen can do it’s more effective work. Reading over the physical manuscript, you will be brutal. Your pages with be splattered in red ink, the symbolic blood of the characters you cut and the lengthy descriptions you sliced down to two words. You will not be reading the story. You will be reading the problems.

It is time consuming. It is a huge pain in the butt. However, once you get that sliced and scarred manuscript transcribed to your computer what you will have is something that looks alot like a final draft.

A final draft.

So keep that red pen in your back pocket until you are tired of your manuscript, then pull it out and wield it like the unforgiving sword it is. You can’t go wrong.


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