Everyone has a different process for editing a manuscript. Some people edit as they write, taking hours for each paragraph, trying to get it perfect before they move on. Other people prefer to simply write and leave everything for later. However, one thing they can all agree on is the necessity of separating micro-edits from macro-edits.
Micro-editing is important. It focuses on the words, the sentences, the paragraphs as individuals— examining things like flow, emotion, description, and such. It makes sure the narrative is smooth so the reader doesn’t get held up by a weird turn of phrase. When you micro-edit, you’re polishing the manuscript for a good reading experience. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in the story— it just needs to sound good.
Macro-editing is also important. Macro-edits focus on plot, characters, and making the right impact with whatever you’re trying to do. The words don’t matter. At this point, you’re just figuring out what you want to say, not how to say it.
For that reason, macro-editing should come first. Style is just as important as story, but why spend time polishing up a scene or a character that you’re just going to cut? Macro-editing allows you to cut everything you need to cut— and add everything you need to add— before you move on to the micro aspect of things.
But it’s difficult, isn’t it? Knowing the difference between macro and micro edits, and when to apply each, is tricky.
With all editing, you need to figure out what bugs you and see what you can do to fix it. You find the problem, then think about it until you find the solution. It’s easier said than done. If you’ve already thought about this story too much, you might skip over the solution several times before you see it. Not only that, but if you’re in the mindset to notice everything that bugs you about this manuscript, you’re going to end up both macro- and micro-editing at once.
Therefore, in order to macro-edit successfully, you must completely ignore your instincts about correcting typos, rearranging words, making things make sense. Again, why polish something that’s just going to die anyway? It’s like making food look pretty, or dressing up for a blood sacrifice. That which must die has a purpose— but its purpose is not to look nice.
When you’re micro-editing, then, you have to ignore the macro. Of course, if you do the larger edit first, you probably won’t have many problems with large things like scene placement or character arcs, but it can still happen. If you’re dead set on micro-editing ‘til you can’t micro-edit no more, you’ll have to ignore some of the larger stuff that you can’t change with a highlighter.
So when you’re macro-editing, or when you’re micro-editing, you have to make sure you’re spending your energy in the right way. Micro-editing is not for questioning the wisdom of this particular plot twist, nor is macro-editing for deciding whether purple or violet is the right word to describe that kangaroo. Tune out the other influences so you can focus completely on what you’re trying to do.