Let’s face it: editing, generally speaking, is not the fun part of the writing process. Trawling through pages and pages of your work looking for errors and areas in need of improvement requires a lot of effort, and can be both time-consuming and tiring. Yet, it is a vital part of the writing process. Reworking your manuscript, over and over, is how you take your work to its completed, polished best so that you can submit, file, or self-publish.
With this in mind, I’ve come up with a few effective, tested, and time-saving ideas on how to approach this task – taking you all the way from ‘draft 0’ to ‘completed manuscript’.
1 Read it out loud. This surprisingly effective editing method is great for highlighting any issues with flow, clarity, economy, consistency, and more. Reading out loud forces you to slow your reading pace slightly and concentrate on details of your text that you may not be consciously aware of when reading silently. It also gives you a better sense of the flow of language and sentence construction that you have used. Try reading your work out loud, and highlight or make a note in any area where you stumble upon the words, see room for development, or where you notice any inconsistencies. As you are reading, ask yourself: Does it flow evenly? Is it comfortable? Is it clear? Does it get across what you wanted to say? Is it passive? Is it consistent?
You may need to read through a number of times in order to perform all of the checks. Take a page, or a few pages, at a time – perhaps a chapter – and read them through until you are happy that you have identified all areas you wish to improve/develop.
2 Read it backward. For easy proofreading, grammar and punctuation checks read your page backward! Start at the last sentence on the page, and read back through to the first sentence. You’ll find, through reading your work out of order in this way, that any glaring spelling, typing, formatting, grammar, etc errors will become unmissable and apparent and therefore easy for you to correct.
3 Use a narrator. This is similar to the ‘read it out loud’ method but is different in that you source an external narrator and listen to your work as it is read aloud. This means that you can concentrate completely on your work and identifying what does and doesn’t work within your manuscript instead of reading out loud. Where the ‘read out loud’ method helps to even out and smooth flow, format and sentence construction, this ‘listen’ method allows you to focus on smaller/finer details – such as clarification and consistency. Make notes as the reading progresses, or – if you’re listening on your computer – pause the audio and highlight/make notes on the document directly before continuing.
You can find narrators from a variety of sources – free online narrators, paid software, or ask a friend or family member to read your work out to you! Some computers have a narration programme already installed – although, you may need to split your work into smaller ‘chunks’ for each reading. I like to listen via audio on my pc – using narration software, or by splitting my screen to view the audio playback document and my manuscript at the same time. This allows me to highlight/fix/make notes/etc as the reading progresses.
As before, as you listen ask yourself the following questions: Does is flow? Is it clear? Is it complete? Make a note for every area you notice where you want to make a change, this will make it easier for you to reference/fix after your read-through.
Once you have listened through and highlighted the areas you wish to develop/rework, start back at the beginning of the document and ‘fix’ all sections/areas that you have highlighted. Then, use the narrator to go through the document again. Repeat until you are happy with your final document.
4 Search for specific words. Use a coloured pen (or set your font/highlighter colour to something that will stand out against your text) and go through your document highlighting (or, changing the font colour) of every instance of your chosen word. If you’re doing this on a computer, you might find that the ‘Find’ function (control + F) is useful. Alternatively, use control + H to replace one/all instances of a chosen word.
Personally, I prefer to print off the page I am working on and use a coloured pen/highlighter to identify set words. Sometimes, a change of setting can help you to spot or identify things that you would otherwise miss or gloss over in your usual environment. I usually write on my PC, so I like to do – at least some – of my editing by hand initially. Try printing off a few pages and sitting outside with the fresh air and some coloured pens.
This method helps with spotting repetition, improving economy, and even for identifying style or shifts in POV, tense, tone or active/passive voice. It also can help with spotting frequency for various elements of your work. For example, you might choose to search for the word ‘and’, ‘very’, ‘was’, ‘said’, ‘probably’, ‘rainbow’, ‘blue’, etc. You might search for a type of word, such as all adverbs, or a character name or location.
5 Separate sections. This is an adaptation of the above hack, wherein you separate different elements (‘sections’) of your text. For example, highlight all dialogue in yellow. Highlight action in pink. Internal conflict in blue, and so on. This gives you a clear idea of how each sentence/paragraph/page/chapter/etc breaks down into various elements and how evenly or unevenly these areas balance against each other. This provides you with a useful at-a-glance view of sections or areas of your writing that you may wish to rework. For example, if you have three pages of uninterrupted internal conflict, you may wish to focus on that ‘section’ to include more action (external conflict). Or, if you have a chapter of solid dialogue, you may wish to break this up a little with other elements that help to develop your characters, build tension, and move your story along to its eventual climax.
6 Read, Read, Hide (create distance). Once you’ve gone through and redrafted your story – put it away somewhere you will not be tempted to look at it, and leave it/do not touch it for several days. Taking this step away from your work will allow you to create some distance from your writing and give yourself a better objectivity concerning your work. When you return to continue with your writing, several days on, you will have a clearer, more objective view of your writing which will allow you to better see the areas you wish to improve/develop. Not only will it be easier to see the areas in most need of development or improvement, but you’ll also approach your work with a more independent, (somewhat) ruthless, and ‘professional’ mindset.
As well as this, returning to your work with a ‘fresh’ view of it will allow you to (re-)discover what/how you truly feel about your work. If you end your read-through with no or very few edits to complete you’ll feel very happy and proud of what you have achieved, which in turn will heighten your enthusiasm (and motivation) for your writing project and will also feed itself into your work and echo in your reader!
If you liked this post, you might also like to check out these similar posts:
What are you favourite, go-to editing tips? Let me know in the comments section below!