Editing Your Own Work

by Patricia Eddy

Writing is only the beginning of the publishing process. Editing is every bit as important as writing. Think of it this way. Editing is food, writing is water. Sure, you can write and immediately publish, but you’re going to leave a lot of possibilities on the table if you don’t bother to edit.

I’m a professional editor. I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that you should hire a pro before you publish (and even potentially if you want to query). But not everyone can do that. Editing isn’t (and shouldn’t be) cheap. You can spend upwards of $1000 for a manuscript edit. Rather than seeing that number and choosing no editing at all, I want to share with you a few tips and tricks for doing some self-editing. If you implement these four practices, you’ll not only have a better manuscript, but if you do decide to do the professional edit after this, there’s every possibility it’ll be cheaper because your manuscript will be in better shape to begin with.

  1. Read your work out loud.
  2. Keep track of the words and phrases you use most often.
  3. Enlist the help of friends and fellow readers.
  4. Do the basics. Spell-check. Grammar check. Search for typical mistakes.

Those are my four rules of self-editing. Now let’s talk about them.

Read your work out loud

This is an awesome tool to keep in your wheelhouse. You’ll catch so many little things that aren’t mistakes, per se, but that make your writing somehow less. Repeated words. Take the following passage.

The crack of the bat against his skull sent pain shooting down his back. Peter whirled, hauled back and threw his fist into his assailant’s face. The crack of bones breaking in his hand reverberated in the room. He shook his hand in pain and stumbled back.

Not a bad little passage, right? Wrong. It is. Read it out loud. Crack. Back. Crack. Back. Two words, each repeated twice. That’s poor writing. But when you read it silently, you don’t always catch that. Is this better?

The sharp thud of the bat against his skull sent pain skittering over his spine. Peter whirled, throwing his best punch towards his assailant’s face. Crunch, pop, snap, went the bones of his hand. The sounds echoed in the room. He cradled his hand to his chest and retreated a few steps.

Yep. Better. Repeated words can be a crutch. Which brings us to the second tip.

Keep track of the words and phrases you use most often

These will change by the type of story you’re writing, but my most frequently used words are: soft, strong, whimper, murmur (or murmured), and warm. My phrases are: came back to awareness, shook (his/her) head, reached for (him/her), and trembled in fear. Those are all valid words and phrases. They describe the action appropriately, but they get boring when used too often. So what I’ve done is to create a list of synonyms for them.

Soft: velvety, supple, smooth, silky, downy, fine, gently yielding, quiet, barely audible, a whisper

Came back to awareness: woke up, forced his eyes open, managed a coherent thought, jerked awake, allowed reality to intrude, sharpened his focus, remembered herself, focused on the rest of the world, fought the darkness that surrounded him, won the battle against sleep.

If you use Scrivener, you’re in luck. It can help you with this task. From the View menu, select Statistics and then choose Text Statistics. You can use the Word Frequency option to help you get some of this information. You’ll get a lot of noise in this window. The most frequently used word is probably going to be A or The or I. But you’ll also get a lot of really great information.

Enlist the help of friends and fellow authors/readers

This is the item I struggle with the most. I write a lot and very quickly. I’ve overwhelmed my beta readers from time to time. But still, I don’t release anything until I’ve had at least two people (before my editor) read it. Your beta readers will catch a lot of things you don’t because you’re too close to the story. I know my characters’ back stories. I can tell you what Nic was doing when he was fifteen years old. I know exactly what Raven’s mother looked like and what Ealasaid’s father did in the war. However, none of those details are actually listed in my books. But I refer to them occasionally. My beta readers will tell me when I’ve introduced something that simply wasn’t ever noted before or came out of left field.

Do the basics

This is the most important thing you can possibly do. Run spell check. Run a grammar check. Neither of these tools will catch everything, but both will catch a lot of things. Lastly, run some searches for the most commonly made mistakes. You’re/your errors. Affect/effect. Their/there/they’re. It’s/its. If you have ever had any question about how to use any of those word choices, do the search. We all make those types of mistakes occasionally and spell check will never catch them.

I hope these editing tips have helped. You can do a lot to improve your writing and increase your sales without spending a dime on professional editing. That said, if you need an editor…I’m available.

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