Self-Editing tips


As I’m currently in the throes of editing, and I was making some how to edit suggestions on twitter recently, I thought a brief post on some of my methods might be of use.

Plus its a neat way of procrastinating.

Line Edits

Use spellchecker

Of course, it’s right there waiting to be used, but don’t rely on it completely. Spellcheckers have an uncanny way of picking just the wrong word, or of skipping over words because although they are not what you meant, they are actually words. It’s only a computer program. Pinch of salt. Have a dictionary to hand, or access one online. Use a thesaurus but don’t get carried away. If you have to look the word up maybe you shouldn’t be using it. Equally, using too many unusual words can get kind of grating for a reader. I tend to ignore Word’s grammar suggestions completely. On that we really dont’ agree.

Print it out

Our eyes read differently on a screen than they do on a printed page. We are more likely to spot errors in the text this way, especially where an incorrect word has been used but has been accepted by a spellchecker because it’s a real work. (see what I did there?)

And addition to this, or a trick to use when you’ve read through it a million times already…

Print it out in a different font.

Our eyes become used to a particular font very easily. We normally work in the one we are most comfortable reading and that is perfectly fine. But when we want to check for errors, if we use a different font we are more likely to spot typos or other errors.

Read it out

Our ear is more keenly attuned to the flow of language than our eyes (naturally enough). When we speak aloud, we can notice clumsy constructions, repeated sounds, awkward words more clearly than if we are just reading. Note: if you’re writing epic novels you may want to do this just a little at a time. Some authors record themselves and listen back but since I hate the sound of my voice when its been recorded (not when I’m waffling on of course), I’ve never done it.

Act out Dialogue

Yes, you will probably look like you’ve gone insane if anyone walks by, so maybe not if you’re working in a coffee shop or the library. But acting out your dialogue will give you the sense of whether it works as dialogue, the kind real people would use. A very angry person who has just lost everything is not likely to say “Actually I am pretty upset right now.” Or if they do, you’d need to have a good reason why. They’ll use words that scream, that show their pain and you have to give them those words.

Overall Story edits.

This is a method I’ve been using for a number of years. I don’t remember where it came from originally but it works really well for me as a writer and forces me to go through the whole story and think of it as one cohesive thing. It’s the closest I can get to putting together something similar to the edit letters I’ve got from my editors.

Print out a copy as it appears in the manuscript (your usual font), get a notebook and a pen. Read the story. Any line edits can be noted in the text but changes that effect story should be noted in the notebook with page references. This could range from – “she needs to know this before page 20” to “Weren’t his eyes blue?”. It could be “this chapter doesn’t make sense until x has happened” or “What happened to his sister – explain”. They are things that could be major changes, or quite minor but the effect the story as a whole rather than just that particular page. I go through the entire manuscript this way – line edits on the  page, story edits in the notebook.

Then read through the notebook. Work out what needs to change. Summarize them. Categorise them. Put related ones together and use the notebook for brainstorming solutions. If you work with a crit group you may want to bounce ideas off them. I like to work through all the easy changes first and build myself up for the difficult ones. Once I’ve started making small changes it becomes easier for me to make major ones.

I think the most important thing to develop when editing is not so much a sense of detachment from the text but a sense that the purpose of this is to make the story better. Whether you’re working alone or with an editor, your aim is to improve, clarify and tell a better story. Some of the changes you’ve noted won’t work – you’ll come to them to find you’ve already dealt with that problem or your solution doesn’t work anymore. And that’s fine. Writing is a fluid thing, and editing adapts around it, allow creativity to take precedence.

When working with an editor you might talk through some of the thoughts and ideas, discuss how improvements could be made and make your own notes based on theirs. It’s a collaboration.

That’s it for the moment. Just a few to be starting with. Some of you will have your own tips and techniques. Maybe you’d like to add them below.

4 thoughts on “Self-Editing tips

  1. Thanks so much. This is very useful, especially since I am in the editing process as well. One of my tips is to do a word search for unnecessary words – my weakness is the word ‘just’. Use it everywhere for some reason!

    1. Very true Celia. If you can identify those words for which you have a certain weakness, make a list and check them every time! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Thanks for this post.

    I sometimes feel overwhelmed when it comes to revisions. I reach a point where I can no longer see the words on the page. I’m fine when it comes to revising small chunks of text, but seeing what needs to be revised in the book as a whole can be difficult, particularly when I’ve read the manuscript through a couple of times. I’m going to try your tip of printing a copy in a different font. That’s a great idea.

    1. Hope it helps. I know that feeling too well. That’s why I started doing the easy bits first. Summarizing it in the notebook, away from the text, helps me as well. Thanks so much for commenting. 🙂

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