Ten Tips for Editing Your Own Work
Self editing is tough. How can a writer tear apart the paragraphs and scenes they slaved over? How can they know what to cut and what to keep? Here are ten tips to help you polish your project.
1. Tuck your baby in for a nap.
Let your manuscript/story rest. You need to put some distance between yourself and the words you've written. A few days is good; a few week, even better. You want to come at the project with fresh eyes and a hazy memory. You want to forget some of what you've written so that when you read it at the edit stage, you have a fresh perspective of the project.
2. Change the font and format.
Anything that helps you look at your work in a different way is a good thing. Change the font. Change the format. Instead of reading a single column on a page, set it up as double columns. If you write exclusively on a screen, try printing the manuscript and editing it in paper form.
3. Read it out loud.
When we read silently, our eyes sometimes skim words and read what we expect to see rather than what we see. Try reading the story out loud. You'll be surprised what you find.
4. Edit for structure and content
As you're reading through, do you hit a scene or paragraph that feels repetitious, slow, maybe even boring? That's a scene or paragraph that might not need to be there. Sometimes you have to cut a chunk of your story to make it stronger. It hurts, but you'll be happier for the end product.
As you read through, do you notice questions that don't have answers? Add sentences and paragraphs to tie up loose ends and fill in plot holes.
5. Get rid of your crutches.
Every writer has words they overuse, words that pop up many times on each page, words they rely on without even realizing it. What are yours? Read a single page from your story backwards, starting at the last word and working your way to the first. Is there a word that jumps out at you? Find your crutch word and use the "find" function to locate it in your manuscript, then replace it with something better/stronger/different.
Some words sound alike but are spelled differently, and spelling matters. Some common examples are: its/it's, to/too/two, there/they're/their, prey/pray, dual/duel, pore/pour, pique/peek/peak, naval/navel to name just a few. Make sure you're using the right spelling for the meaning you want to convey.
7. Spell check
Spell check is a great tool. Use it. But don't just automatically replace the words it flags. Make certain that the replacement is actually the word you want.
Are your sentences all short and choppy? long and descriptive? Active? Passive? Do all your sentences have the same layout? What about your paragraphs? Are they all long and flowing? Short? Do you have endless chunks of narrative or minimal bit of dialogue? Take a look at the way you've structured sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters. Does the structure you have chosen help convey the story you want to tell?
9. Italics, CAPS, Bold font, exclamation marks, Oh my!
Are you overusing italics? Are you including parentheses or em dashes in every sentence? Have you written chunks of your story all in upper case or in bold? Do you follow your sentences with a trail of exclamation marks? Your prose should convey the excitement and intensity. Chunks of work in upper case or bold should be avoided. Italics can be used for emphasis but should be used sparingly. Exclamation marks should be used as sparingly as possible.
10. Let the birdie fly from the nest.
Most writers could keep playing with a project day after day, polishing and cleaning, adding words, deleting sentences. At some point, you need to accept that you are happy with where the project is in that moment, that it is a piece you are proud of, and you need to let it fly free.