I’m currently methodically editing my novel. It is indeed a labor of love. This has got to be my 20th time going through my 272 page baby. But guess what? Every time I do I find room for improvement. I know that eventually I’m going to have to send it on out there into the cruel world of potential slush piles and form rejection letters, but I don’t want to do it until I believe wholeheartedly that my novel is the absolute best it can be. Hence, the incessant editing! So I thought I’d share the love and give you my top 6 tips to improve the self-editing process.
1. Run A Spelling and Grammar Check– This might seem obvious, but it has to be said. Most programs won’t catch every single error, but they will catch a lot of them. Remember, you wrote it and you’ve been reading it over and over again. It’s easy to mentally put words there that no one else can see. You know what you meant to say, and the brain has a funny way of letting you read it the way you meant it. Which leads me to my next tip.
2. Join A Writing Group- I’ve already talked about the importance of being an active member in a writing group here. But I’ll reiterate it because it is SO important and helpful. There is nothing like getting honest constructive criticism and feedback from fellow writers. Trust me, they are not going to simply point out a few spelling errors. A good group will challenge you with feedback regarding character development (read more about that here), continuity, plot pacing and so much more. You are personally invested in your novel (and if you’re not, that’s a whole other problem), so it can be difficult to see major editing flaws. A writing group can help with that.
3. Continuity Really Counts-Take note of the small stuff in regards to continuity. Your characters names should remain the same throughout the story. There should not be a white Christmas in sunny Southern California. One character should not be dressed in a shorts and sandals, while another is wearing a ski ensemble in the same scene. Unless one of them is mentally ill. In that case, by all means carry on. Keeping the story straight and things making sense may seem simple, but you’d be surprised!
4. Take Note of Your Bad Habits- I tend to use the word ‘just’ way too often whenever I’m writing. I never noticed it until it was pointed out to me by one of the members of my writing group. Told you number 2 was important. Anyway, once they told me about my annoying habit, I did a search for the word ‘just’ in my novel and found an embarrassing number of instances where I used the word unnecessarily. Try to take note of your bad writing habit and go through your work with a fine tooth comb to rectify the situation.
5. Read Aloud– This may seem like Editing 101, but it works. I don’t do this nearly often enough, but I know that it is helpful. Especially, when it comes to natural sounding dialogue. Stilted dialogue is a pet peeve of mine. Whenever I read something with poorly written dialogue I’m constantly thinking, “No one talks like that!” It’s annoying. So as awkward as it may feel at first, reading your work out loud can help make sure every thing is copacetic.
6. Be Ruthless– We work hard on our writing. Sometimes there’s a beautifully written description or segment of prose that makes our chest puff out with pride at the brilliance of our talent. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the plotline and it’s slowing the story down. Get rid of it. I know it hurts. Believe me I do. But if it needs to go, let it go! To make it easier on myself, I’ll put the deleted portion in a separate document. Somehow, just knowing that it’s there makes it easier to cut it out of my novel. See, I used the word ‘just’ again. Needlessly. Sigh, I’m a work in progress.
I found the article “Six Easy Tips for Self Editing” super helpful. It was also funny to boot. Check it out here.
Also, I read an article about tips for editing from an editor’s perspective. It gave me a little something to think about. You can peruse it at your leisure here.
Have some editing tips of your own? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below. I need all the help I can get!