10 TIPS FOR BETTER SELF-EDITING
Excerpted from "Don't Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor." Read more about each tip in Chapter 2. http://blke.co/1OG5oi7
- •Rest your manuscript.When you’ve finished typing the last word of your masterpiece, set it aside for a few days. If you can stand it, set it aside for a week or more. Essentially, you want to try to forget everything you’ve written, so that when you do come back to self-edit, the book almost seems as if someone else wrote it. You want new eyes, and the best way to do that is to rid your mind of what it’s been consumed by for so long.
- •Print your manuscript, or read it out loud.In On Writing Well, William Zinsser wrote, “Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose.” For some, seeing their digitized words on paper or hearing them read aloud helps them discover useless words and catch errors they otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
- •Search for troubling words.All writers have specific words and phrases that (which?) always cause them to (too?) second-guess whether (weather?) they’re (their?) using them correctly. If you know what your (you’re?) troubling words are, use your word processor’s search function to locate every possible variant of that word or phrase.
- •Remove or replace your crutch words.Do you know the top ten words you use most frequently in your manuscript? Outside of necessary articles and prepositions, you may be surprised at what words you use over and over. Scrivener, my preferred writing software, makes it simple to discover your crutch words. Go to “Project > Text Statistics,” then click on the arrow next to “Word frequency.” If necessary, click the “Frequency” header twice to sort your words by frequency. You’ll then be presented with what could be a jarring list.
- •Remove all double spaces at the end of sentences.If tapping two spaces following your sentence is an age-old habit ingrained into you since before the dawn of modern digital typography, may I suggest ingraining another practice? Conduct a find-and-replace after you’re done writing. In Word, type two spaces in “find” and one space in “replace” and hit enter. Voila! You just time-traveled your manuscript into the 21st-century.
- •Search for problematic punctuation.Are you a comma chameleon, adapting that otherwise innocent punctuation mark to do work it was never meant to do? Or does your manuscript need a “semicolonoscopy,” a thorough checkup on proper semicolon and colon placement? If you know you have trouble with certain punctuation marks, conduct a search for that mark and learn if you’re using it correctly or not. If you’re still unsure, let your editor fix any misusages, but make a note to ask why they fixed the problematic punctuation.
- •Run spell check.I think writers become too accustomed to the colorful squiggles on their digital pages. I know I do. In an effort to get ideas on the page, we might run rampant over grammar and usage. Yet, those squiggles mean something. At the very, very, very least, run spell check before sending your manuscript to an editor or beta reader. It’s a built-in editor that I’m not sure every writer uses to their advantage.
- •Subscribe to The Chicago Manual of Style.When an editor returns your manuscript back to you, they may cite particular sections of The Chicago Manual of Style. If you’re unfamiliar with this Bible of the publishing industry, you may not be aware of precisely why the editor made a certain change. By subscribing to CMOS (it’s only $35 a year), you’ll be able to look up issues on your own before sending your manuscript off to an editor or beta reader.
- •Format accordingly.While preferred styles may differ from one editor to the next, you can show your professionalism by formatting your manuscript to industry standards. Such formatting makes it easier for beta readers to consume, and editors prefer industry-standard formatting, which allows them more time to edit your actual words instead of tweaking your formatting.
- •Don't over-edit.Set aside an hour or two to go through this list, but be careful about over-editing. You may start seeing unnecessary trees within your forest of words, but you don’t want to raze to the ground what you’ve toiled so hard to grow. There’s a middle path between exhausting yourself in a vain attempt for perfection and being too lazy to run spell check. Do yourself and your book a favor and self-edit, but be careful to not go overboard.