This has been one of my more popular posts and is also one of my most useful techniques, so it's high time I share it with you all on here! What exactly am I talking about?
We're going to be diving into Color-Coded Editing today!
This is a process I use during the revision stages of editing, all the way through the first phase of line-by-line editing.
For some background, my basic routine usually goes something like this:
To preface: I first read something similar to this in the "Now What?" stages of the National Novel Writing Month blog years ago. However, I've tweaked it a lot and so it's quite different from what first gave me the idea. I'm not a huge fan of editing--but this method makes me actually look forward to it.
It's broken up into simple steps with different colors for each one. I use colored pens and underline or circle sections, using a pencil or a regular black pen to write notes in the margins or on sticky notes that I attach to the paper. But if you're a highlighter kind of person, you could definitely use that instead, and of course, feel free to switch up the colors. I just use what I have on hand, and have a personal system for what color goes to what editing step, but you can, of course, adapt it.
Step Two: By this time, you probably have an idea of what you got right and what you got wrong in your draft. But as I said, don't randomly attack the thing with scribbled-y red ink. If you go back to the beginning, grab an aqua pen. You're going to read through the book again, this time focusing on emotions/tension/reactions, etc. What places make you laugh? cry? feel suspense? Are there no emotions when there should be? Or maybe the wrong ones? Did your character act or say something out of their norm? Is their behavior too melodramatic? Too stoic? This is the time to go through and mark with your aqua pen all the feels (or where there should be some). Make sure that you're following what your character's responses would be, not what yours would be.
Step Three: Grab an orange pen, and this time you're going to read through it again, looking for places where you're bored, confused, there are plot holes or inconsistencies. If you need to fact-check various things in your book, this is the time to put a little asterisk or something besides those things to check later.
Step Five: Take a purple pen and read through your manuscript, this time searching out your descriptions. Not enough? Purple pen to the rescue. Too much? Cross some out. Not written to your satisfaction? Melodramatic? Cliche? Cheesy? Purple pen. Anything that has to do with descriptions tackle now.
Step Six: This time, with a pink pen, check your dialogue. Mark the passages with too little dialogue, and the places with an overabundance. Mark where you lose track of who's speaking, or if too many sentences start with "I". All your dialogue problems should be fixed in this step.
Step Seven: Read through your book again, this time with a green pen. You're going to check now for places where you could use 1 word in place of 10, where words are repeated too closely together, where you use the word in the wrong context and that sort of thing. This is getting more into the details, and by now you probably have a rainbow-inked manuscript, but don't worry--you're close to the end!
Once you finish Step Seven, you're going to have a book full of different colored markings, sticky notes, and scribbled memos. This is the time now to go through your novel on the computer, fixing all the things you marked in the manuscript. By the time you're done, your book will be much better and should be ready for the line-by-line editing stage.
Don't worry if this color-coded editing process takes a long time. That's ok, as long as you don't stop for months in-between stages. (That can make you forget things about the book that you need to keep in mind while editing). Each step may take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on how much you need to fix, how long the book is, how much time you have to work on it at once, etc. That's the beauty of this method though-- because it is smaller steps covering the whole novel, rather than trying to remember everything to look out for and crawling through the book, it is super adaptable to whatever schedule works for you. It not only gets editing done in logical steps, but you won't have to worry that you've forgotten important details from chapter two when you're trying to edit chapter forty-seven.
If you use this technique, I would love to see it! Post your colorful manuscript on your Instagram with the hashtag #fearlesscolorcodedediting for a chance to be featured on our IG story spotlights!