The “one and a half pass” editing pass

The day this post goes live I’m collecting the last of my reader feedback for Unintended Consequences. That means Monday, June 3, 2019, I am starting what will, hopefully, be my last pass on the book before the whole thing gets submitted to the ‘big’ editors for publication. It’s time to give the whole manuscript one big once-over using everything I’ve learned, just to make sure it’s ready.

I’ve said it before, one of the best things you can do to develop as a writer is to read about writing.  A while back I read Steven King’s On Writing and learned something important….

One of the most helpful (to me at least!) things in that book is the simple statement that when Steven edits, he makes notes on themes. When I read that. I realized I should do the same thing. It would help in longitudinal (through story) editing. I tried it, and my system’s grown from there.

This new and evolving system has really helped me pull the book together. Since I’ve developed the “one and a half pass” editing pass I honestly get more done each time I go through a manuscript.

Why a “one and a half pass” pass.

Well, that’s because the first pass isn’t really a complete pass. The first time through, I might fix little things: typos, little bits of formatting, etc. But I’m spending a lot more time marking the bigger stuff I need to work on and making notes. What this does for me is it helps focus on the themes important to the book (and the ones that need to be edited out). It also helps identify problems in continuity within the book (and between books if you’re doing a series…) and gives me time to think about those big fixes and insight about how to resolve them in the context of the whole book.

So, the “first” pass isn’t really a complete edit. It’s a list of what I need to work on in the edit. The second pass begins armed with the notes I’ve made and helps me fix the things that need to be fixed, drop the things that need to go away, and focus on the story as a whole.

That “second” pass is really a complete editing pass, but I couldn’t do it without the first ‘partial’ pass.

Why not just make notes and edit everything in one pass? Because, that results in lots of little mucking about with things that will change again (possibly back to the way they were in the first place!). The point of the first “half” pass is to find the stuff that needs attention in the big picture of the story. If I’m giving up a bunch of time just focusing on the section I’m in, I miss some big stuff.

When I come back on that second pass I can fix the stuff I need to with an improved understanding of how it meshes with the rest of the work.

Is it really that simple?

Umm… We’re talking about a manuscript over 50,000 words long (73,571 words for this specific manuscript at this specific point…) simple isn’t the first word I would use to describe any effective editing process for a document of that size.

The idea is really that simple: make notes about themes and the editing to be done, then go back and do the rest of the work. But, the practice can (and does) become more complex.

There are tools to be assembled. There is a mindset to be developed (and possibly habits to be broken). You have to figure out how to adapt the process to the way you work, and the manuscript you’re working on.


Well, we’re talking about making notes. So, you need a way to make notes. That could be the comment feature in Microsoft Word. It could be a feature in Scrivener. It could be a separate document on your computer. Or, it could be an actual, physical notebook. Myself, I go with the actual notebook because sometimes I like to work and think away from my computer.

You also need tools and a system for marking within a text. Again, this could be a software solution or physical tools, but you need a way of working that makes sense to you (and any co-authors and editors working with you).

I use a ‘dead tree’ edition of the manuscript and a collection of colored pens (yep, the weird colored ones you can’t use on official, legal documents). The colors help me recognize at a glance what the notes I’ve made refer to. Usually my color system goes something like this:

  • Blue: actual edits to the text (fixing typos and immediate edits). It’s old school classical editor stuff (though in the old days it would be a blue pencil…)
  • Black: notes on themes and general notes on stuff to be worked on in the second pass (this color gets used more in the notebook than in the manuscript)
  • Purple: Voice issues. Honestly, if I feel like there’s a problem with the voice in a section, I put a big purple circle around it. That way when I come back later I can figure out the right way to do the voice in view of the whole story.
  • Red: Continuity stuff. Red ink helps me make note of things that differ or shift between one section and another. Before I developed this technique, there were times the calendar and time of day started to feel more like suggestions than facts. And, that’s saying nothing of who did what to whom issues…
  • Green and other colors: I add other colors when necessary to reflect issues and needs within a specific project. For instance, in Unintended Consequences there are several points where texts and online chats are used for character communication. I used green to mark things that should have been in my text/online style but weren’t.

The tools I use (and the ones you develop for yourself) should make that “second” pass easier and more effective. When you get it right, a “one and a half pass” pass can easily get more done than three or four passes doing the “just focus on this chapter” method.

Summing up…

It’s really about productivity and improving your story (both interesting and readable/salable). Yes, the “one and a half pass” pass takes more work than a “single” pass. But, because you can look at the whole work with the help of your editing notes, you can get a lot more done in a pass than you could otherwise.

Nobody said this stuff was easy. The truth is writing takes work.

This method is a way I’ve found to make that work easier and more efficient.

And today I’m sharing it with you dear reader. Use it if you will. Adapt it to your own needs and process. And, I’ll see you next post.

(As usual, if you have something to say, leave a comment. Thanks)

Published by Farangian

I'm a writer (fiction and non fiction) with a Masters in Psychology. I am also a sculptor, metal smith, lapidary, tutor/trainer, and eternal student. The name Farangian comes from the name of a fantasy world I created called Farangia. That name comes from Farang with is a term that the Thai use for westerners.

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