10 Basic Steps for Reviewing Your Writing
Once you’ve finished your manuscript, it’s easy to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate the first step to getting your book published. But bearing in mind editors can tell what’s worth publishing after as little as two pages, it’s a good idea to do some editing yourself, before you send it off.
The more that editors realize your manuscript needs a lot of editing work, the more likely they are to put it to one side and forget about it. Self-editing will increase your chances the editor reads your manuscript – it’ll also increase the chances your book will actually be readable.
To avoid any hiccups, below are 10 easy steps you can follow to re-read over your manuscript and self-edit.
1. Set your manuscript aside for a few days
This may sound counter intuitive, but it’s easy to get so involved in the writing process you then find it hard to review and edit.
To get the best out of self-editing your text, let your mind unwind for a couple of days. This step is important because it’s easier for you, as the author, to return to your manuscript with a “fresh eye” – almost like someone else wrote it.
Your mind is less involved and will be able to bring a fresh perspective to what works and what doesnt. On the other hand, don’t over-edit, as the more you change the more likely it is you’ll dig yourself into a hole.
2. Read your manuscript aloud
One of the best ways to pick up on “mistakes” or awkward sentence constructs in your manuscript is to listen to it being read aloud, by you or someone else. You can either get an awesome friend to read it out, or you can set up the text-to-speech facility on your computer.
Reading aloud is also an excellent way to pick up on any elements, items or story-lines that don’t sit well. This applies as much to unfinished story/character arcs as it does to funny grammar or spelling. It’s often when you hear the manuscript being read aloud that mistakes become glaringly obvious.
3. Use Spell-Check
OK, so you’re probably thinking there’s nothing wrong with your spelling, but this is an important self-editing tip in the digital age. Most writing is now done by computer, and it’s quite easy to misspell words (especially if you’re a fast typist) or rely too much on the computer to do everything for you.
It’s also too easy to simply ignore all those multi-coloured squiggles that appear under words or sentences on your screen – but they are there for a reason! At least take the time to review why those squiggles appear and alter words or grammar that really have been misspelled. Sometimes it’s simply because there’s a slightly easier way to express yourself, and you can quickly edit or rewrite.
4. Keep an eye on those troubling words
Even for a native speaker of a language, there are always particular words or phrases that can keep tripping you up – even if you’re otherwise very good with language. It’s easy to trip up even on obvious mistakes such as “their” and “there” or “affect” and “effect”, for example.
How about keeping a reference book by your side so you have an easy source to flip through on those troubling words/phrases? This can either be a thesaurus, a dictionary or a good old grammar book for quick reference. There are also plenty of resources online that can help you do a quick check if you need.
5. Swap adverbs with strong verbs
Sometimes an adverb does its job just right in the sentence. If you’re trying to emphasize how the verb is carried out because it adds value to the story line, then that’s great.
Think of the difference between “She nodded.” and “She nodded vigorously.” The second sentence illustrates and underlines the action far more effectively, particularly if the character has a strong reaction to something in the storyline.
In other cases, however, it is often the case that a stronger verb helps you get the same idea across without the extra emphasis from the adverb. For example, instead of saying a character walks slowly, say they creep. The door didn’t shut noisily, it clanged shut. It gives a more powerful meaning to the sentence.
6. Get rid of overused words
Even with the best of us, there are just some words that just keep cropping up. Putting aside the absolutely necessary words, such as prepositions, articles, connectives and the like, a complete rewrite of the sentence (or a thesaurus) helps you find alternative words to those you tend to overuse.
The “Author Culture” blog quotes commonly overused words in fiction including: “face” (as in “he faced her”); “feel/felt”; “gaze/gazed”; “glanced”; “that”; and “turned”.
You can click on the “Frequency” header to find out those words which you use most often (you’ll likely surprise yourself!) As you’re re-reading through your manuscript, keep an eye out for those words that pop up again and again and try to either delete them altogether, or replace them with synonyms.
7. Choose readable, concise words
This is stating the obvious, but then again, it’s easy to get carried away and try to show off your extensive vocabulary. However, think of books that have hit the publishing jackpot, such as the “Harry Potter” series, “The Hunger Games” trilogy, or “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Putting aside the target audiences and ongoing debates on how well written some of these books may be, the language isn’t complicated.
Part of the reason they are so popular is down to their readability – readers don’t have to overthink the language. Use this same principle when you’re writing your manuscript. Keep in mind that readers pick up books because they want to relax and unwind after a long day – they don’t want to have to labor over a dictionary as well.
Along with this, it’s a given that redundant words don’t add anything to your story line, so it’s best to get rid of them altogether. Think along the lines of “He shook his head in disagreement.” The last two words are implicit in the first four, so they can just be deleted. It can be rephrased simply as “He shook his head vigorously.” which emphasizes the level of disagreement.
The same goes for devices such as “They walked through the open door…” – readers already know the door is open to walk through it. These are very simple examples, and it’s easy to add in extra information in the heat of writing, but now that you’re editing, they need to be cut.
8. Avoid cliches at all costs
The advice to get rid of cliches is almost a cliche in itself, but this is one of the most annoying additions to a text possible. Take an axe to those cliches right now and chop them all out! Take a look at any of the most popular books, and you’ll find that the use of cliches is virtually negligable.
Editors dislike this lack of originality with a vengeance, and most will say that using cliches is a sign of laziness! As an author, a creator of original sentences and storylines, it’s in your hands to make sure you don’t fall back on these overused (and justifiably much derided) phrases.
Highlight and delete any cliches you find have crept into your text immediately and replace with something that highlights just how comfortable you are with your story and characters!
9. Eliminate the passive voice
Overusing the passive can be a sign of an inexperienced author and editors will see this! The passive voice also weakens and slows down the text.
Remember the difference between active and passive voices? The active, as its name suggests, denotes action and movement – it helps keep the storyline moving along at a decent pace.
On the other hand, in the passive voice, the action is taken out of the sentence completely, because the focus is no longer on the doer. Before you delete every incidence of the passive voice in your text, however, it’s best to keep in mind that it can sometimes serve the text well.
The passive, like other grammar devices, can sometimes be used for a specific purpose to strengthen the text. Think of crime novels, where you may be trying to illustrate actions that happened but not who did them. Remember that a good read indicates movement of time as well as action and moving forward – the passive is the opposite, slowing things down. Verbs need to refer directly to the doer and the action going on in the the text!
10. Avoid over-description
This applies to using too many adjectives to overdescribing the scene or characters. It’s a fine line to walk, as on the one hand you need to set enough of the scene for readers to understand enough to keep the story line going.
On the other hand, too much description slows the story line down making it hard to keep readers interested. Writing sentences such as “The deep shiny red, hard, overstuffed sofa” is too much information that readers don’t necessarily need. It’s best to give the readers just enough description so they can then interpret a picture in their mind’s eye (which is part of the fun of reading anyway).
Conclusion: Self-editing is crucial
It’s crucial to invest time, and potentially money, to make sure that your work is captivating while also being easily readable. It should have a seemingly effortless flow so the reader doesn’t have to exert effort to understand your perspective. Your text should make sense to them so they can read it with ease, as that would get them to delve deeper into your fictitious world.
This brief overview of self-editing tips can act as a checklist of points to look out for in your manuscript before you send it off to the editor. Each point will help you tighten up the text and increase its effect while increasing the finished manuscript’s readability.
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