You’ve finished your manuscript! Hurray! Do something special for yourself and celebrate this victory. But after you’ve hit the mall, or gotten that massage, or eaten a whole gallon of Cherry Garcia, it’s time to polish your story with a little bit of self-editing.
7 Self-Editing Tips
Whether querying or sending to an agent/editor, you’ll want your story to be the best possible version when you send it out into the world. Here are some things to keep in mind as you gear up to edit.
Let it sit.
Read it aloud.
Identify crutch words.
Look for passive voice.
Identify wandering body parts.
Know your weakness and work to improve.
Run spell check.
Ready to polish? Let’s take a closer look at each of these tips.
1. Let it Sit
You’re excited and ready to hit the ground running because your manuscript is effing brilliant and the world must see it at once! But, when you jump straight into edit mode after all that writing, it can be harder to see the issues and mistakes.
Your brain can train itself to see things that aren’t there. Missed words, misspellings, misplaced commas, etc. Because it’s amazing, your mind can fill in errors for you and skip over them.
Walking away for a while will help you catch those little things your brain might jump over if you edit straightaway. Also, you might find that something that made perfect sense when you wrote it could give you a WTF was I thinking moment after you’ve looked at it with fresh eyes. I prefer to let my writing sit for at least a week, but often the longer the time frame, the more keen my eyes and brain are when I return.
2. Read it Aloud
Your eyes track rapidly and your brain processes even more quickly. Nobody speaks as quickly as they think––reading aloud forces your eyes and brain to slow down to the speed at which you speak. By lingering a little on the words, you can catch a lot of things you’d otherwise skip.
Yes, you’ll look like a nutbar. I suggest finding a quiet room where you can be alone (especially if you have children and are reading sex scenes).
The second option is to have your computer read it to you!
Mac with MS Word
If you have a Mac and you’re working in Word, it’s quite simple. Highlight the text you want read, then press option+esc. You can change the voices, download different voices and accents, and vary speaking speeds. In System Preferences select Accessibility and then Speech.
PC with MS Word
You can add Speak to your Quick Access Toolbar by selecting the small dropdown arrow on the right of the bar and following these directions from the Microsoft website.
The text to speech option is built into the edit menu. Place your cursor where you’d like it to begin speaking, and select Start Speaking from the edit menu. It stops when you select Stop Speaking from the same menu.
3. Identify Crutch Words
These are the words we use that are all fluff. Very, really, quite, then, totally, just, etc. They’re filler words that don’t add to the story.
Why say, “I was really scared” when “I was terrified” offers the reader a move vivid picture? Every writer has crutch words—the trick is to learn what yours are and scale back. Both WriteWords and WordCounter allow you to cut and paste your writing into their word counting tools to identify the words you’re leaning on most.
4. Look for Passive Voice
Recognizing passive voice takes practice, but here’s a quick tip. Most passive voice stems from a sentence’s subject being acted upon, instead of the subject owning the action. When the subject owns the action the sentence is more powerful, personal, and the narrator feels tied more closely to the story.
Ex: Passive — I was given a locket by my crush.
Ex: Active — My crush gave me a locket.
Ex: Passive — It was decided by the board that she should be fired.
Ex: Active — The board decided to fire her.
Though the use of “was” or any incarnation of “to be” can indicate that passive voice is present, it’s a narrow definition of the problem. Not every sentence that uses “was” or “to be” is passive. For instance, let’s look at “I was shocked.” The use of “was” doesn’t indicate passive because I am owning my shock.
Also, not all passive voice is evil. I could write several blog posts on this topic alone, but for a more detailed explanation, Grammar Girl has a great blog series on active/passive voice that can help you learn to recognize it in your own writing.
5. Identify Wandering Body Parts
My eyes shot to his naked chest. Did they really? They left your head at great speed, without you, so they could get a closer look at the sweaty, naked man torso? You’ve got a wandering body parts rambling about without an owner.
My hands wandered the length of his love muscle root to tip. The sentence implies your hands left your body to wander on their own.
Keep your hands attached to your wrists and your eyes in their sockets. Fascinated with his sweaty man torso, I let my gaze travel over every dip and curve of muscle. I couldn’t stop myself from wrapping my hand around his love muscle to test his girth.
6. Know your Weaknesses and Work to Improve
For example, do you suck at line edits? Do homonyms give you issues? Do you love to expound on the thirteen different colors of the setting sun that danced in your heroine’s eyes? Learning your weaknesses just sucks, but once you learn them, you know what to root out when you’re polishing.
7. Run Spell Check
It’s really the simplest thing you can do when self-editing. Although they won’t catch everything, spell check and grammar check can significantly reduce the little errors and the amount of time you spend hunting for them.
Now that you have an overview of things to be cognizant of as you start the self-editing process, you want more info? Your thirst for self-editing knowledge is hardly quenched and you plead, How can I get more in-depth information on self-editing—please Tricia, give us more…
Bonus tip! You may want to check into Angela James’s Before You Hit Send workshop. Chief editor for Carina Press, Angela’s course is intensive and covers everything from backing up your work and tracking your edits in Word to point of view and pacing issues. I thought it was worth every penny of the course fee. The next class is Spring 2018, and space is always limited.
Now, go forth and edit!!!