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How Memoir Editing Works

All About Memoir Editing

When I begin memoir editing with clients, I tell them that a proper editing requires three “read-throughs.” It is impossible to give a manuscript all the attention it deserves in one reading.

Reading a manuscript without doing any specific editing and forming only a general impression has always seemed a good idea in theory, but I have not found a way to do so that is economical. I have therefore evolved this concept of read-throughs as a memoir editing technique.

In each of the read-throughs, I read the text with two minds: editing the particular sentence I’m reading and thinking about the whole (which is still a blur until I have read the manuscript several times. This has seemed the most cost-effective process.

The First Read Through

In what I call the first read-through, I am looking for:

  • syntax, paragraph organization, cause-effect relationships, even spelling and grammar. In this first read-through, I am functioning in my best “English teacher” mode. While the client and I may send the same text back and forth several times, I consider any memoir editing that is still focused on these “English teacher” issues to be part of the first read-through.
  • fact-checking. On-line search engines are a great help, as are road atlases, encyclopedias, and dictionaries (all of which can also be found on-line). Human memory is simply fallible, and it never hurts to verify the name of a lake or an historical date. Unless I am doing only a few checks, I ask the client if I ought to do this work (while the billing clock is ticking) or if I ought simply to make a note of the names and dates the client needs to verify later on his or her own.
  • relationships between various parts of the manuscript. The is often a cause-and-effect search. I ask myself such questions as: “Do I know really why the character is acting this way?”
  • chronology. Is the story relating what happened first before what happened second? (This is true only when the author has not intentionally striven to create a memoir that has no chronology. This is not an approach I would recommend to a first-time writer.)

The Second Read-Through

In the second read-through, I am considering the entire manuscript in relation to its shaping and the pacing of the story. At this memoir editing stage, I make suggestions for re-organization (e.g., “The first paragraph on p. 69 ought to be moved to the bottom of page 43.”; “The whole last third of the manuscript ought to be condensed.”) At this level of memoir editing, I may also revert to first read-through tasks. Here, too, while the client and I may send the same text back and forth several times, I consider any editing at this broad sweeping structural level to be part of the second read-through.

The Third Read-Through

At this point, I ascertain that everything is indeed OK. I may revert to some “English teacher” functions—this is generally labelled proof-reading. (I also recommend that the author procure the services of a proof reader who has never seen the text and who will read for form only.)

Often the client makes last-minute changes that s/he returns to me for final memoir editing. Usually, we are now very close to the end product—an edited manuscript. Any additional interactions are part of the third read-through.

A memoir editing mistake to avoid

Many client’s will become penny wise and pound foolish at this point. They will want to call it quits during the second reading or before the third read-through is complete. It’s the old story of “I should have bought it when I saw it.” This is the best time to ascertain that you have the best manuscript you are capable of producing. Both you and your editor are immersed in the story and can make revisions most economically and elegantly at this point.

The Memoir Authority membership program provides you with many resources to help you grow and persevere as a writer. Every month, receive links to new interviews with memoir writers working at the national level, e-courses to help you with specific aspects of memoir writing, e-books that you will want to refer to again and again. Click here to learn more about how you can join Memoir Authority, our premier membership site for writers who seriously want to finish their memoir this year.

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