Top Five Self-Editing Tips
Ahhhhh editing. The single thing every writer looks forward to after finishing writing their book. Anyone? Anyone else? Oh, so it’s just me, then?
1) Don’t finish writing and start editing right away
Listen, every writer has to do some editing. Whether it’s before or after sending to betas, before querying, or polishing up that manuscript before sending it off to your editor, you will edit your book at some point. If you’ve just finished your mountain of a manuscript and need to dive back into it for the dreaded edits, use these five tips to help get the editing party started!
Michael Scott perfectly encapsulates just how I feel when I see writers do this. NO. Just no. Don’t do it. One of the reasons you hire an editor is to have someone with fresh eyes on your manuscript. You cannot have fresh eyes after toiling and sweating and bleeding over those words for months straight.
Stephen King recommends taking six whole weeks away from your manuscript. Six weeks, you say? How can I possibly take a break for six weeks? Six weeks would be ideal. But if you can’t swing a whole six weeks away from your book baby, aim for four. My advice? Work on a short story or a novella in between. Or, even crazier, take a break from writing and read! Get on twitter (because you’re probably not doing that enough already) and connect with other writers. The point is, if you want to edit your manuscript with the freshest of eyes, you have to take a break from it.
2) Don’t only fix conventional errors
Alright, let’s be clear. If you’re editing your manuscript and you are only fixing spelling, capitalization, and grammar errors, then you’re not editing, you’re proofreading. Sure, part of editing is absolutely fixing the above things, but if that’s ALL you’re doing then, Houston, we have a problem (side note: If you use that phrase anywhere in your manuscript, delete it now).
As you edit, you should be reorganizing, marking passages that need to be re-written, and deleting. Deleting A LOT. If you’re not doing those things, or you’re not able to recognize areas where those things need to be done, then you might not have the critical eye needed to edit your own manuscript.
3) Do a search for unnecessary words
Unnecessary words, you might be thinking. Every beautiful word I write is necessary! Ummm, not exactly. Sorry to break your little literary heart, but there are a load of words writers use that just (<---hint: that’s one of those pesky words) have no place in your writing.
So, what are some of those words? Let’s go over a few. First, do away with adverbs! Okay, not every single one. Most times, adverbs make you look like a lazy writer who couldn’t think of anything more imaginative to say. Pretty much any word with a -ly ending can be done away with. Second, do a blanket search for words like just, very, so, that (some of which can be both adjectives and adverbs) and see if those words are necessary. Most times, you’ll find you can delete them.
4) Do a search for felt, saw, heard
She saw him enter, his bulging muscles gleaming with sweat.
The phrase above is a common mistake novice writers make. She saw, she felt, she heard is telling and tends to yank readers out of the story. Don’t tell the reader what he or she saw, show us what is happening. Read the sentence below, and you can see what a difference this small edit makes.
He entered the room, his bulging muscles gleaming with sweat.
5) Watch for a balance between exposition and dialogue
You just wrote a beautiful and long sweeping passage—I’m talking paragraphs—about the gothic architecture one of your characters encounter when in Florence. You perfectly capture the essence of ribbed vaults, pointed arches, and flying buttresses (yes, I had to google all of those things). Yeah, sorry but you’re going to have to delete it.
Okay, maybe not all of it, but you’re definitely going to have to trim it. Long paragraphs and speeches can be intimidating to readers, but on top of that, it isn’t realistic. People don’t think in terms of long ranges. Thoughts are more erratic. As is dialogue. People’s thoughts and dialogue get interrupted by actions, other people, and other thoughts.
Just skim a page of your manuscript and look for a mostly equal amount of exposition and dialogue (in other words, look for a good amount of white space). And if you have long sections of description or speech, break it up with interruptions that give readers insight into the environment and other characters. The key is to make sure you have a good balance.
6) Bonus tip: In the words of Aaron Rodgers, relaaaaaaaaaax
The title of my last tip is dedicated to all the Greenbay Packer fans out there. And I know, you’re jumping up and down, screaming out in joy, excited that I’m providing you with an extra tip. But it’s my best one, so I had to include it.
If you’re self-editing and you’ve made almost every mistake on my list while writing your first draft; that’s okay! First drafts are for getting the words on paper, no matter how good or bad. Editing is for refining, smoothing, deleting, and putting that final shine on your awesome story. So relax. Have fun, and remember, your story’s potential is worth untapping!