Collaborative Rewriting or Developmental Editing? notes on process

Unknown-3I’m not a big one for “how to” articles mainly because I pretty much need to read them more than write them. However, I think it might be useful for some people to see how I am doing some collaborative editing.

First of all, as most writers know, there are all kinds of editors with their Venn Diagrams overlapping in all kinds of ways. To save time I am borrowing some definitions I found from the site I hope she doesn’t mind, I linked this to Rachel Daven Skinner. (See below my post)

My example of collaborative editing is working with a Developmental Editor. In my case he happens to be my son. I think it’s important to note that a developmental editor need not have the same skills as the other kinds of editors (especially Proofreaders). This level is about story. As long as I have been writing fiction I haven’t bumped into too many people who use developmental editors.

Why? Mainly because they are expensive, given the hours they need to put into your manuscript. (I’m guessing if they don’t need to put in hours you probably don’t need one.) Another issue is style. You need to find a developmental editor who “understands” where you are coming from. If you are doing anything experimental (and I am in this book) it’s even harder to find and/or trust someone to work with. You don’t want someone objecting to the whole concept you’re attempting. You want someone who “gets it” and likes it and thinks they can contribute to what they think you are trying to do.



We start with a draft in Word. Prior to this, I used Scrivener to compose the draft, but since I want to talk about collaboration, rewriting and developmental editing,’s start here with the draft in Word. I like to put my draft in Word after Scrivener, as it feels like Scriv “birthed” this document and it is on it’s way to the next step–publication.

But–ah–the reader/developmental editor/collaborative re-writer reads it and says, “Oh, it’s great (etc.) but it needs some work.” I give the permission for him to work the piece and again, using Word (because their Markup feature is so excellent) he goes through the whole piece, commenting, cutting and improvising re-writes. In my case, my collaborator is more of a screenwriter in style so when he suggests large sections (or whole chapters) he writes what he calls a Skeleton and I “flesh it out” when I do the rewrite.

One “problem” is that it can be disconcerting if not depressing to get back a document highlighted and marked-up to a great extent even when some of the comments are “Great paragraph!”

What I found useful it to read all the comments, then embed them back into the text (vs having them stick out in the margin) and leave the highlights on. I think of this as a stripped down Word doc which I then import back into Scrivener.



Why do this? Well, you’re dealing with your emotions and at some level you’re always in fourth grade when you get a paper back “marked up” by the teacher. You need to get back to your current age by beating back the child (metaphorically speaking) and being the in-charge grown up artiste again. I found that one way to do this is to break up the chapter into sections, each a file of its own. Scrivener is great for this. The way I describe it is that it allows you to take seriously each section or chapter (even name them if you want) so that as you work on each one you feel you accomplished something. An analogy would be rock climbing. The chapter/section becomes the next handhold and really the only thing you need to think about, in fact, you better think about it very seriously of you will fall to your metaphorical death.

Once the chapter is broken down into paragraph/sections, rewritten, it is reconstructed (frankensteinianly wow now that’s an adverb) into a new chapter and pasted back into the Word document. Now if you’ve ever studied Flow, you know that it’s important to show measurable progress to be in it. Or as the famous dancer Trisha Brown once said, you compose “brick by brick.”



The last step is keeping track of all your changes. Many of you don’t have a problem with this, but in my case both of us suffer from ADD and live in fear of confusing, messing up, and/or flat out losing sections. It has happened and will happen again to me. I just try to minimize its lethality by “over-organizing” sections into folders into folders, ad infinitum.


Developmental Editing/ Book Doctoring

Developmental editing/etc. addresses issues at the whole book and chapter level. The focus is on overall execution of storytelling concepts (interesting characters, sound plot, balanced structure and pacing, etc.), addressing the skill of the writing itself, and possibly guiding revisions based on the intended publishing market.

Substantive Editing/ Content Editing/ Structural Editing/ Editorial Letter

Substantive editing is for a manuscript that has some scene, plot, or character issues but is in great shape as a whole, with quality writing and storytelling execution. If a multitude of the issues listed in this section are present in the majority of a manuscript to where massive rewrites are needed throughout, you need a developmental edit.


The focus is on elements such as syntax, best word choices, awkward phrasing, word and phrase overuse, variation of sentence construction, resolving ambiguities, “showing” vs. “telling,” beats interspersed with dialogue, ensuring dialogue is age appropriate and culturally accurate, amping up or toning down sex scenes, world-building details, setting scenes using all five senses, eliminating clichés, fact-checking elements that affect other details in the story, pointing out anachronistic expressions or references used in historicals, ensuring chapters break in the right spot and end with a hook, timeline consistency*, and more. 


 A proofreader checks nearly all of the same things that a copy editor does, but the difference is that the proofreader is looking for the hard-and-fast mistakes that were missed during the copyedit—because all copy editors do miss things—not seeking to improve the text.