The first step in writing a good book is to simply write it. The second step is to edit, edit, edit. Yes, there are professional editors out there that will do that for you for a price, but learning to self-edit is important. Not only will it help you save face, it will save you money. A clean, edited manuscript will rise above the mountain of submissions and show publishers and editors that you are a serious writer.
I’m an advocate for writing what Anne Lamott calls a shity first draft as quickly as I can, and then edit it until it sparkles before I show it to beta readers or publishers. Learning to self-edit isn’t hard, it just takes time, and the more you do it, the better you will get at editing.
For me, serious editing comes after I’ve completed all revisions. My process is simple. I write a fast draft to capture the story. I go back and make revisions. I let it set for a while. I read it again and make more revisions. Only when I’m finished revising, do I start seriously editing. This is part of my process.
- Let your manuscript rest.
Once you are happy with your story, let your manuscript rest for a while. A week is good; a month is better. Then, when you come back with your red pencil, you will return with fresh eyes. You’ll be able to see where to make corrections more easily.
- Print your manuscript and/or read it out loud
I do both. When I’m ready to submit my manuscript, not only do I print it out to have a hard copy to read from, I also read it out loud. This helps me find mistakes I miss working on the computer. Reading aloud not only makes me slow down as I read, it also helps me hear the words and the rhythm. Places I stumble or my mind wanders need to be fixed before I submit. I want my story to sound like a poem, not jarring rap music. My computer has a text speech feature that I also use. The monotone voice has helped me catch mistakes I have missed.
- Search for overused words
Besides searching for those annoying ly and ing words, search for words you use often in your writing. I’m found of maybe, and I know before I submit a manuscript I’ll be eliminating a ton of maybes before I am finished. Look at your work with a critical eye. Which words do you use repeatedly without even knowing you do it? Do a search and change. You’re work will sound fresher and you won’t be criticized for being lazy. Search for very, just, really, and suddenly. Overused, these words weaken your manuscript.
- Search for easily confused words like
There are many more. If these words cause you trouble, make a master list and do a search before you submit.
- Search for punctuation
Once upon a time every sentence was followed by two spaces. Not anymore. Today’s standard is one space between sentences. If you’re from the old school and learned to use two spaces, edit those extra spaces out. This will save your editor time and save you money.
Pay attention to punctuation marks. I know where to place semicolons and colons, but I’m terrible with commas. And I’ve heard of editors rejecting manuscripts because of an overuse of exclamations points. If you’re uncertain what to use, look it up. It also pays to do a special edit focusing only on punctuation marks. You’re a writer; you should know how to use them.
- Run spell check
Every writer should run spell check before submitting. You would be surprised how often manuscripts are sent in with spelling errors. I attended a conference where an editor for a publishing company said if she saw more than three spelling errors on the first page, she rejected the manuscript. It could have been a best seller, but she didn’t have time to correct sloppy spelling. So run that spell check, not once, but several times before submitting your work.
- Search for prepositions
Unnecessary prepositions can make your manuscript wordy. Try to eliminate as many as possible. When I started eliminating prepositions, my writing was tighter, more on point. Some commonly used prepositions are
As you edit, be careful not to over-edit. In your quest for the perfect manuscript, don’t eliminate words that make your work special and part of your voice.
Writing is the beginning, but editing is the bigger part of the process. Before you submit your manuscript, it’s smart to hire an outside editor. Another pair of eyes, especially a professional pair of eyes, may just be the thing that gets your work accepted.