Painless Editing

Editing is so much fun!- said no one ever. Okay, maybe professional editors like it, but for most of us, self editing our work is like scraping our teeth against the wall. We’d rather write new stuff than edit our work.  Prior to sending your book off to a professional editor or agent, you have to do some of the work yourself.

Before you give me a heavy sigh, I said this would be painless, remember? Relatively at least.

Here are a few basic editing tips to think about as you finalize your manuscript:

Start Fresh

If you have been up all night finishing that last chapter, do not go back to the beginning and start editing the same night. Put it away, get some rest, and come back to your manuscript with a fresh brain and clear eyes. You may even want to take a day or two break from looking at it, so you can really see it in new light.

Spelling & Grammar

This is a no-brainer, of course. Double and triple check your spelling. There is nothing worse than reading a book filled with spelling errors that could have been prevented. The same goes for grammar. Make sure you have used the correct word in context. One of the worst offenders of this is the misuse of their, there and they’re and your and you’re. It drives devoted readers crazy when you use the incorrect word.typewriter-papers

Sentences & Punctuation

Write some descriptive details of people and places, but not so much that you go overboard and leave the reader… well, bored. Give your readers a taste of the scene, then let them fill in the rest in their own minds.

Eliminate long sentences and boring dialogue rants. In most cases, getting right to the point is more effective. Think about basic conversations you have with people. Most are clear and concise, not drawn out, unless you are talking with your sister about your recent break up. But readers don’t want ranting.

He said, she said is the best way to explain speaking. Most editors agree that ‘said’ or ‘asked’ is easier to read through than ‘exclaimed’ or ‘inquired’.

Get rid of adverbs- words ending in -ly. Editors and agents hate adverbs. Use slow instead of slowly, awkward instead of awkwardly, solemn instead of solemnly. You get the idea. Simple prose is better.

Limit punctuation. Generally use a period to end your sentences. Too many exclamation points can get silly. You can still wow your readers with a simply stated sentence ending in a period. Take for example this sentence from one of my short stories:

I did not say anything to stop him. I should have. He looked at me at me once more, then he jumped.

You may be tempted to add an exclamation point after jumped, but it actually has more impact in the reader’s mind as a statement. Just like that. Instead of Just like that!  Try it.

Thesaurus Rex

Use a thesaurus. (Hint: Not a dinosaur.) You remember, the one that helps you come up with different words. As a writer you should have one. There should be one in your word processor also. Use it.

Check your document to make sure you haven’t used the same word too many times. For instance, I realized during the editing of my recent novel that I was using the word ‘huge’ too much. Try to be wary of that as you are writing. Use your thesaurus to find a similar but different word. If you use a word processing program, search for the word you tend to use too often to see how many times you have used it. Change at least half of them to another word.

How does it Sound?

Read your writing out loud. Hearing it helps you realize whether or not the text flows. You can even record it on audio or video just for your own personal use, or try reading it out loud to a friend for feedback. This will also help you find more spelling and grammar errors, as well as fragmented sentences.

Speaking of. Fragmented sentences. Don’t complete the thought. And make the reader stumble. (See what I did there.) That’s why reading out loud will help you eliminate choppy wording. Use your English 101 education and remember to write in complete sentences.

These are just a few tips you can use to prepare your manuscript for a professional editor or agent, or to self publish your best work.

There are some great books on self editing. Check out my Resource page for two of the books I use: Editor-Proof Your Writing and The Elements of Style.

What is your best editing tip?

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