Hi, friends! I’ve been meaning to do a post like this for a while, and since it’s been requested on my Instagram stories, I thought now would be the perfect time to do it. Today, I’m thrilled to share my top 10 favorite editing tips to help you streamline your manuscripts.
Over the years as a professional editor, I’ve learned a great deal about how to better self-edit. Because editing can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing process, I’d like to tip you off to some of the best things I’ve learned.
That said, here are my top 10 favorite tips to help you self-edit your novel:
1. Print your work out, or read it on an ereader or phone.
I know some people may disagree with me on this one, but reading your work on paper or in a medium where you can’t make edits helps your editing process immensely. You focus more on the work as a reader, rather than a writer. And, if you’re diving in to edit something every few minutes, you can’t concentrate on the narrative. That’s why I recommend this strategy.
2. Read your manuscript out loud.
This tip follows close on the heels of the first one. Reading the manuscript aloud helps you discover errors, typos, and clunky phrasing you might not notice as easily when you’re just reading the work in your head. Try this tip, and I promise the number of mistakes you find will surprise you.
3. Edit in passes.
My ADHD and anxiety make it hard for me to see the forest for the trees, especially in my writing. With so many revisions staring me in the face, I can easily become overwhelmed, and then I don’t feel like editing anything. If this sounds familiar to you, my best advice is to break your edits into bite-sized chunks that are easy to tackle one at a time. Start with the big-picture stuff, then work your way down. You’ll feel much more motivated and less distracted this way.
4. Eliminate pointless adverbs.
Adverbs seldom add any strength to a sentence. Of course, there will always be an exception to the rule, but in my experience, cutting adverbs entirely or replacing them with stronger verbs makes prose read much better. Search for “-ly” words in your manuscript and consider strengthening your verbs or removing the adverbs altogether.
5. Reduce dialogue tags where possible.
If it’s clear who’s talking in a scene, or if you can replace the dialogue tag with action, feel free to get rid of dialogue tags wherever you can. Sometimes, too many dialogue tags can make a scene feel clunky. Reducing them can streamline your prose and improve your pacing.
6. Keep an eye out for “was.”
Often a signifier of passive voice, “was” can almost always be revised or eliminated to create a more engaging sentence. For example, you could revise “Pedro was horrified by the blood on the floor” to “The blood on the floor horrified Pedro.”
7. Hunt down weasel words.
Each person has their own set of little words that impede the pacing and don’t add anything to the sentence. These can include “kind of,” “sort of,” “seems like,” “very,” and “really,” to name a few. When you see these words, evaluate whether you can cut them. In most cases, you can, and you should if it improves the sentence.
8. Evaluate the past progressive.
I’ve mentioned my frustrations with the past progressive tense on Twitter. As with many of the other items in this post, you can easily eliminate it. Here’s an example: “I was running down the street” –> “I ran down the street.” See? Much cleaner.
9. Vary your sentence structure.
I’ll admit it: I struggle with this one in my own writing. It’s often one of my biggest revisions. Still, varying your sentence structure helps you SO MUCH overall, and it can make a big difference in the readability of your work.
10. Watch for repetition.
This is something I often address in edits for my clients, and in my own work. Watch out for sentences and paragraphs where you use the same word or phrase over and over. For example, “Devin kept watch from the top of the watchtower” should be revised to something like “Devin served as a lookout from the top of the watchtower.”
There are so many tips I could have included here, but these are my 10 most useful editing tips! If you enjoyed this post, let me know. I’m trying to share more editing-related content on my Instagram too, so make sure you’re following me there.
If you’ve already self-edited your novel and are looking for a pair of expert eyes to comb through your manuscript, check out my editing services. I also have a 10% off any editing service or manuscript review offering for my patrons, so if you’re interested in that, please pledge your support.
What are your favorite editing tips? What questions do you have about the editing process?