5 Self-Editing Tips that Will Make Your Book 10 Times Better
As authors, we go through a lot of stages of writing. There’s brainstorming, outlining, actually writing the first draft, self-editing, beta reading, more self-editing, repeat, repeat, sending to an actual editor, and so on. I don’t know about you, but for me, self-editing is one of the longest and most stressful stages.
It’s also one of the most satisfying. Seeing your story transform into something better than you imagined is a magical experience. What’s better is that you get the satisfaction of knowing you made that happen.
Self-editing should never be used to replace a professional editor. However, tweaking scenes, improving wording, and catching your own mistakes can all help you make your story better. Here are a couple of techniques I personally use when self-editing my novels.
Take a Breather
The first thing I do is set my manuscript aside. I recommend forgetting about it for at least two weeks. I know. It sounds like torture to not be working on your book. But this strategy allows you to approach your manuscript with a clear mind. Once you start to forget a little of what you wrote, it almost feels like you’re reading someone else’s writing. It makes it so much easier to spot your mistakes.
Focus on One Thing at a Time
Don’t go through your manuscript looking to fix everything at once. Instead, take it in stages. The first time back through it, you might read for plot holes or areas that need clarification. Next, identify unnecessary scenes. Then focus on characters actions and their development throughout the story. Do they act like themselves the whole time? Do they grow from beginning to end?
Once you have the bigger kinks worked out, you can move on to focus on your wording. Is there a better way to describe an action? Do you repeat the same words too often? Are there misspellings that spellcheck didn’t catch, such as “weather” versus “whether”?
That’s not to say you should ignore certain parts if you’re not explicitly looking for them. For example, if you are reading for plot holes but notice a misspelling, feel free to fix it. Just don’t try to fix everything at once or you’ll end up missing too much.
Search for Overused or Misused Words or Phrases
Once I get down to the nitty gritty and start looking for ways to clean up my phrasing, one of the most effective tactics I’ve found is to use the search function. In a Microsoft Word document, there’s a “find” button, or you can click CTRL + F. Then type in the word you know you want to clean up throughout the manuscript.
For example, like many authors, I’m a culprit of using the word “that” far too often. As a general rule, you should only use it provide clarification. Overusing it makes your writing seem somewhat amateurish, and it can pull readers out of the story. So by searching “that” in your document, you can identify areas where it’s needed and where it can be removed.
Don’t stop the search at phrases you tend to overuse. Also take a look at words you tend to misuse. Examples include:
It’s a tedious task, but reading your manuscript aloud is worth it. Doing this makes it easier to catch strange phrasing or repeated information in the story. I personally read each of my books aloud to my husband like an audiobook when we’re in the car together. This gives me a chance to hear mistakes while my husband can give me feedback on the storyline. If you’re not comfortable reading aloud to someone else, it can be just as effective to do it in private.
Don’t Over Edit
As authors, we want the work we send out to the world to be perfect. The reality is that it isn’t going to be perfect because you’re always going to want to change something. And when you’re always changing something, you may end up working backward and hurting your manuscript.
The good news? You can get pretty darn close to perfection! To manage that, though, you eventually need to set down your manuscript and say, “I’m done!” Self-edits are an important part of creating a professional product. They work together with a professional editor to make your story the best it can be. Not only that, but working with an editor can help you become better at self-editing.
Do you have any personal strategies when it comes to self-editing? Tell us your secrets in the comments.
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Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!