How To Edit Your Own Writing

What things do we even edit for?

  • Storyline – Scenes are in order and flows and makes sense. Your characters behave according to their personalities. Your settings don’t skip around in time or place.

  • Sentence Structure – Syntax makes sense within the narrative as well as straightforwardly lets the reader know what’s going on. Sentences are in order and make sense to communicate the story clearly.

  • Spelling-All words are spelled correctly. Made up words of places, people, etc. stay consistent in spelling and composition throughout.

  • Punctuation – All sentences need to be correctly punctuated to properly communicate the story.

When editing your novel, work from big to small.

First, take the book as a whole, and order it neatly, correctly, and concisely. Once it flows in a clear path, focus on the smaller parts such as chapters, paragraphs, and then sentences. As you work with each, pay attention to how they sound together. Are they creating your story and the feeling you want to convey?

Once all components work together cohesively, it’s time to start on the even smaller details, spelling, and punctuation.

One of the reasons writing is so hard is that our thoughts are instant and formed, but it makes it hard to write that way because we have to lead our reader through the script instead of dumping all the information on them at once. There is a natural order to the way that things progress, but our minds process so quickly so the order doesn’t really matter up there. We just understand.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

And then revise. Why? Because it's almost impossible to do away with typos entirely, but if some get through, at least it won’t be through any slacking on your part.

I recommend using Word Spellcheck, Grammarly, any friend willing to help out, and yourself. Yes, all of them, together on a single project, because none of them are perfect, but using them all will give your narrative every chance.

Here are some tips for you:

  • Change the font, the size, and the color to keep your brain from drifting off over the familiar text.

  • Take a break for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes.

  • Read it aloud so you catch things you wouldn’t have caught before.

  • Focus on each word, where it fits in a sentence, where that sentence fits into the paragraph and where that paragraph fits into the whole. When they say, “Make each sentence fight for its life,” take it seriously.

  • Change the words that you don’t think are working.

  • Use “said,” less. How did your character say it? What tone did they use? What emotional state are they in?

  • Don’t use lazy words like ‘so’ or ‘very.’ Use better words that illustrate your picture and bring it to life. Bring it off the page and let your reader jump into it.

Make the Commitment to Your Novel to finish strong and to do the work well.

Editing is a discouraging process in which we batter ourselves emotionally with each mistake we find. Here’s a writing truth for you:

  • Just because you find problems in your manuscript, does not mean you’re a bad writer. It just means your work isn’t over.

Yes, this is your baby and it’s difficult to criticize what you created. It’s disheartening to have done all the work of writing a novel and realize that it wasn’t good enough. Your excitement is going to flag and then drag in the mud as you slog through the process, but you must keep going. This is where you decide not only if you are a writer, but what kind you want to be.

If you expect to have a manuscript that’s worth all the effort you’ve already put into it, you have to keep working on it.

Keep this in mind as you begin this process because it is brutal.

Here’s my Method in case this helps.

First, I write my first draft as well as I can. Obviously, there will be mistakes, but I’ll do my best to catch them when I work on the novel again.

The Second draft is mostly rewriting each scene adding the little details I missed in the first draft, making sure everything is in order and flows from scene to scene.

Adding little details happens especially with dialogue whereas in the first draft I was focused on the words my characters said. The Second time I’ll focus more on the tones they used, what actions they performed while talking.

Again, I’m writing the second draft as well as I can, only sort of actively looking for typos.

The Third Draft is where I dig in hard. The story is set and in order now. This is where I rake through each scene mercilessly making each sentence fight for its life. I spend hours adding, subtracting, rewriting and rewording almost every line to make the scene flow, and fix punctuation and spelling mistakes.

Each scene takes 4-5 grueling passes, read out loud and in my head. I’m done with a scene when the writing makes sense, is easy to read and understand, and I can’t find any grammatical mistakes.

This process is difficult, very time-consuming as I can spend a day on this and only get a couple of scenes done. I feel wiped out mentally afterward and almost feel like I have little to show for my efforts overall.

But… the writing is so much clearer.

The reader won’t have to work as hard to understand the scene, making them more likely to continue reading because I’m not pulling them out with a misplaced/misspelled word or something doesn’t quite fit right. Too much of that creates a dissonance with the novel as a whole.

After all that work, I put the book away for a while. Out of sight, out of mind because I want to come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes this can take months.

The fourth draft is mostly me checking for any additional issues with flow, sentence structure, and anything that seems out of place. And especially punctuation and spelling. If the fourth read-through leaves me feeling confident in my writing. It’s time to send it to the Beta Readers (or editor as the case may be).

This may or may not help you in your own process. I just wanted to give an example or if you decide to use it as such, a guide.

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