How to self edit writing
After the finished manuscript comes the rewrite.
After the rewrite comes the editing.
It is insanely difficult to self edit your own writing. When we read our own writing, we miss simple mistakes, that’s why we need editors. However, to keep costs down and produce the cleanest copy of your manuscript before you send it to an editor, you need to edit as best as possible.
but, how do you self edit writing?
Here are 7 tips to help you self edit your writing
1. Listen to your manuscript. Hear it read back to you.
Hearing your manuscript read back to you helps catch repetitive words, awkward sentences, run on sentences, and grammatical mistakes. When you hear something that doesn’t sound right, stop the recording and go to the place in your manuscript to fix it.
2. Break up long writing (novels) into different files
For easy maneuvering, edit one chapter at a time. This reduces anxiety from looking at one 60,000 word document that needs editing.
Prepare a checklist, for example:
Edit Chapter 1- Edit and then take a break. When you come back, check it off your checklist. Repeat process for Chapter 2. Take a break after every chapter to regroup. While you are taking your break, think about what happened in the chapter and make an honest assessment.
3. Use a word processor (Microsoft work, open office etc) to spell check your writing
Use the spell check feature on your word processor to check your work. Take your time making sure that you don’t miss out on any paragraphs, do it one chapter at a time if necessary. For every misspelled word the word processor finds, be careful to replace it with the right word. Read the entire sentence that contains the misspelled word before you change it.
4. Give special attention to similar words.
Do a search for similar words in your writing. Read the sentence to make sure you used the correct word.
For word processor applications press [control] & [f] on windows or [command] & [f] on mac. A search box will appear. Search for the following words. When you find any of them, check for proper usage. Check for proper spelling and meaning, as well.
- Too = also or comparative. too much,too fast or She wanted to go too
- Two = number
- There = Location: Over there, there you go, here and there
- Their = possession. their clothes, their home, their car, their pizza
- they’re = They are
- you’re = you are
Sometimes when you mean to say “to”, it is written as too. So, check for these similar but different words in your manuscript to find and fix them.
5. Use strong definitive words and sentences.
Use specific words for descriptions. i.e The blue car vs The cobalt Cadillac. The cobalt Cadillac is a stronger sentence because it is more specific and creates a strong vision in your reader’s mind.
Mary had red hair. vs Mary’s cherry red locks.
Use simple sentences with strong descriptions. It should be clear what you want to say.
6. Cut useless lazy words, phrases and sentences.
Don’t use extra words if you don’t have to:
in order to = to
due to the fact that = because
a long period of time = a long time OR a long period
he nodded silently = he nodded (I dare you to nod loudly)
were going to = would
he knew that = he knew
all of the things = everything
the tragic drowning death =the tragic drowning (if someone drowns, we know they’re dead)
her hair hung down = her hair hung (implies down)
she spoke with an impatient tone of voice = she spoke with an impatient tone (implies of voice) OR she spoke impatiently (But don’t use too many adverbs. See below.)
they stood up = they stood
Sensory Duh Moments
This is another form of dead wood, one that’s easy to overlook.
He nodded his head (as opposed to nodding his what, elbow?)
She blinked her eyes (as opposed to blinking her toe?)
And so on. I see this kind of dead wood with gestures – wiping tears, squinting, tasting, and more. If your character is using one of their five senses, great! Just don’t be redundant in pointing out which one; we can figure it out.
7. Avoid using Passive Voice
Passive voice happens when things are acted upon instead of doing the acting themselves.
Example: The boy was bitten by the dog.
Just say: The dog bit the boy.
Make it direct. Passive voice adds words to sentences, and fewer words makes a tighter story anyway.
Even better, show the dog biting the boy in a scene. Give us action and conflict!
How to spot passive voice:
WAS. A sentence with the word “was” is a good indicator of passive voice, or a sentence that can be written better.
Here’s some simple guidelines:
1) Find a case of “was” and chances are you just found a case of “tell” instead of “show.”
For example: Emily was embarrassed.
Pull out “was” and replace it with vivid details: Emily’s flushed cheeks, her desire for the ground to open up beneath her and swallow her up.
Now the reader knows she’s embarrassed, because you just showed it.
Search for instances of whenever your character was something, and give showing details in its place.
2) Yank WAS 90% of the time when it’s connected to an ING verb.
For example: He was sitting. He was talking. He was writing.
Just say: He sat. He talked. He wrote.
Generally speaking, the plain old past tense is more effective. It’s a punchier, stronger verb form.
Sometimes you can find an even stronger verb altogether. Instead of walked, how about “he stormed, he stalked, he sauntered?”
Do a search and find every “was” in your writing. Then replace the was with a stronger sentence. Either describe the “was” situation or find a stronger simpler verb.
I will do a post on each individual aspects of self editing like grammar, prose, etc.
There you have it. 7 steps to self edit your writing. Do you have any self editing tips you use? Share them in the comments section below.