Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Editing Tips for Writers

I've been working on editing my novel, the Chloe Chronicles and the Rebirth for some time now. So, I’m constantly discovering new tips on how to edit my manuscript. There's a plethora of information available. It can be quite intimidating.

Therefore, my post today will be for writers. Of course, anyone can use the tips I've discussed here. I’m not a published author and know that my tips are not all inclusive. However, I’ve implemented the following editing techniques to my manuscript. I find it reads much better, clearer. The tips will allow my readers the capability of delving into my book without the distraction of messy, clunky, disconnected writing.

First Editing Tip:

The very first thing you should do once you complete the first draft is to put your manuscript away for at least two or three weeks. This will give you the opportunity to look at it again with fresh eyes. This waiting period is meant to give you the ability to look at the manuscript you've pondered for months (sometimes years) in a different light. Many writers differ on the length of time needed to produce these “fresh eyes,” but all agree that it’s necessary. 

Second Editing Tip:

Once you’ve waited for your “fresh eyes” to appear, the next step is to do a thorough read through. I read my entire manuscript from first page to last. I try not to make any corrections during this step. This is very difficult to do. I see so many errors at this point and want to make changes to them. Don’t! My goal during this step is to:
  • spot gaping holes in the plot – your reader should understand what has happened, not scratch they’re head in confusion.
  • ensure character arc – your protagonist should be different by the end of the storyspot dialogue errors – know your characters, would they really say that. 

  • look at sentence structure – sentence lengths should vary within each paragraph.
  • Your villain is well thought out – your villain will provide much of the conflict in the story so must not be weak. He/she/it must be strong enough to survive the entire story. If the villain is weak, your story will be also. The same thing goes for your protagonist.
  • Ensure your story has enough conflict to propel it to the end. Conflict is what keeps your readers, reading. No conflict = boring story = no readers!

… I make notes on the hard copy of the manuscript, with notes in the margins and underline or highlight things I need to change. Alternatively, I use a notebook with notations of changes that I need to make by notating page this, page that and paragraph this, paragraph that, beside it so I can find the things I need to correct later.

Third Editing Tip:

In this next round of editing, I’m looking to seek and destroy. Meaning: I'm going to have to cut a lot. What am I looking to destroy:
  • the endless back-story (back-story is info that gives the reader details of what happened before the story began). This should have been spotted and notated on your read through
  • All the other things you noted in your read through. Anything that does not propel the story forward – especially dialogue that does not push the story forward or reveal anything about the character(s) that the reader must know/understand to understand the plot.  
  • Repetitive use of words – never use the same word in the same sentence, if possible, not the same paragraph (this mostly refers to verbs) Use a thesaurus to find new words to replace the repetitive ones. Nevertheless, remain mindful of your audience – you’re not trying to prove your intelligence but stimulate a reaction from your audience.
  • Cut down on the use of adjectives and adverbs – especially those words ending in – “ly” like, suddenly
  • Cut down on fillers, words that add no meaning and if deleted from the sentence does not reduce clarity, examples: just, then, probably, usually, almost, there was, there is, had, mostly…

Fourth Editing Tip:

Once I’ve deleted all the unnecessary things from my manuscript its time to ensure that my spelling, words, and sentence structure are correct. Sure go ahead and use your spellchecker but it will not catch all the errors. You must do a line-by-line edit to catch any redundancies or awkward sentences, misspellings, and proper word usage.

Fifth Editing Tip:

Don’t push that send button!  Do not think under any circumstance, that once you complete your first draft it’s ready to send to agents. It’s not. Even if all your friends tell you, your story is great, flawless, and perfect. It’s not. Wait. Follow the steps in this post…nobody ever gets it right the very first time. Even the authors on the best-sellers list have to do a thorough edit…or pay someone to do it for them. Scour the Internet for editing tips. The easiest places to look are blogs. Blogs by other writers are filled with tips on editing. Keep looking until you keep finding the same tips or you can say that you’ve implemented almost every tip you’ve come across.

Sixth and Final Editing Tip:

This is actually two tips in one. ***no need to thank me*** Read then write. Read more, and then write more. I’ve never personally met anyone who loves (you must “love” to write to do it or else you must be insane, in my humble opinion) to write but does not like to read. I LOVE reading. I read quite a bit in my genre…actually anything I can get my hands on. My bookshelf is overloaded. I also read outside of my genre…to keep me on my toes. And, of course, I love to write. I feel sad when I don’t write. I miss my characters and feel as if I’m neglecting them.

Those are all the tips I could think of right now. I’ll gather more information and post more editing tips later. This should suffice for now. I should know…their keeping me awful busy.

If you have any editing tips please let everyone know in the comments section below.


  1. Great tips, especially the one about fresh eyes. I thought I'd nailed the plot of my novel (not the editing, of course, but the plot) when I wrote it. But after leaving it sit for a while and coming at it with fresh eyes I found so many plot holes you could strain spaghetti with it!

    Thanks for the great tips!

  2. Some great tips here and yes, the fresh eyes and even better, a fresh expression to go with them, therein lies the rub! Thanks Dawn. CathyKozak, from SheWrites.

  3. Thanks, Brenda and Cathy. There are so many editing tips that I could have included here but I felt the ones that I had were the most important. I only wish I'd learned all of them early on during the editing of my first attempt at a novel.

  4. Good advice, Dawn. When I'm editing for clients, one of the most prevalent things I see is over-dependence on the passive verb. Usually I note it then highlight. Sometimes I'll end up highlighting so many on one page that I stop. You can do that for yourself. Most of us would be amazed at how often we use "was" or other passive forms.

  5. Great tip Helen. Thanks for sharing. It is important to watch out for passive verbs. I still struggle with this so, I highlight all instances of the word "was" in my manuscript using Microsoft Word "find" feature and setting a macro.

  6. Great tips.

    And here's one for Dawn who commented above...

    There's an easier way to find all the passive verbs in your manuscript. The AutoCrit Editing Wizard can do this for you, plus it finds LY adverbs, and a whole bunch of other words that are indicative of weak writing.

    Even better, it lets you know when you've used too many...and when you haven't :-)

    It also does some handy things like find repeated words, slow pacing, etc. It's really handy for finding the problems in my manuscript.

  7. Thanks Kay Tee, great info. Can you explain a little more about the AutoCrit Editing this a feature of Microsoft Word? Thanks for sharing!!!


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