One of the banes of self-editing is that you, the author, know what you intended to say, and therefore you have to trick yourself to see what's actually on the page. Every writer's different, so figuring out the best methods for tricking yourself takes practice.)
(And that's in addition to knowing how to edit and being able to edit your own writing, not just others'—because it's always far easier to edit others' work than to edit your own.)
But how on earth can you trick yourself into seeing what's actually on the page rather than what you think is there?
5 Methods for "Big Picture" (Macro) Editing:
- Outline your writing arcs.
- Wait before re-reading.
- Check your writing beats against a formula (like Save the Cat).
- Color code everything.
- Use a beta reader.
For a novel, that's character arcs, your relationship arcs, your plot arcs, etc. For non-fiction, that might be your themes throughout the piece.
An "outline" can be anything that charts it out. That might be conventional outline like you used to hand to your teacher, a bullet list like this one, a stack of 3x5 notecards (with one point per card), a mind map (AKA "snowflake"), the keywords in Scrivener… Whatever works best for you to see and verify that your arcs fit how they should.
Each arc must get a new outline, and it's often best to color-code them. Also, each point on the outline needs to indicate where that item is found in the story. (Personally, I like using the keywords in Scrivener for checking my characters, to make sure nobody vanishes for most of the book—like Lallie did in an earlier draft of A Fistful of Fire.)
The wait might be a day, a week, a month, a year—whatever works best for you. (But if writing is your business, you'll want to figure out writing methods that let you only need to wait for a day or week. Clients generally won't give you an extra year deadline.)
The wait will help you forget what you intended to write, so you see what's actually there.
This works really well when you write quickly, so the writing gets ditched from your short-term memory, rather than getting etched in your long-term memory. (The problem comes if your rough draft is so rough that you can't understand what you intended to say.)
Plotting naturally follows particular event or emotional arcs, and even non-fiction has its flow.
There are exceptions and variations, so figuring out where your particular piece of writing fits—or even what formula to use for it—can take work. And then you have to get the mental distance from your work to be able to identify those major events that fit the formula.
If you go this route, spreadsheets with automatic calculations are your friend for tracking down where those events should be—and if you're an avid reader, you've probably internalized plot structure and have hit it more-or-less instinctually.
Assign colors to different aspects of the story. If characters are blue, maybe main characters (and their description) are dark blue, and minor characters are light blue.
You could also (or as well) do it also for marking dialogue/description/action.
This doesn't have to be printed out (and is probably better if you don't). MS Word (and other word processing documents, Scrivener included) have highlighter functions. Another benefit to doing it on computer is that you can change the text color, rather than just the highlighter color. Be sure to make a key for what each color means.
When you can use one (and there's no contract or anything like that blocking you), a beta reader can offer a great second set of eyes.
However, you'll want to start by making sure you find the best beta reader for what you need checked. This may mean using more than one—and different projects might need different types of beta readers. (See my post on how to find beta readers.)
Also, bear in mind that you don't want to take advantage of or abuse folks as beta readers. If you try to get folks to volunteer too much of their time or if you're too pushy, you'll drive your beta readers away and not have any for the next time you need them. Show your appreciation for your beta reader by attempting to match the reader up with a story they'll like.
So there we go: a brief run-down of 5 methods to help you macro-edit.
Do you have any other methods to share? What's your favorite—or which do you think you'd like to try?