Here are four (self) editing tips that will work for every type of content.4 Content Editing Tips for Freelance Writers (Video)
In a previous post, I offered a list of rules to follow to finish your first draft. Now that you have completed your draft, it’s time to clean up the mess.
As I stated previously, your draft is going to be messy. It’s going to need revisions. You’ll need to smooth out transitions, make grammar corrections, and deepen content. The revising and editing process can be daunting for some, but I’ve learned a few things over the years that have made the whole editing and revising process a little less painful.
Take a break. It’s a good idea to step away from the manuscript for a few days or even weeks before you jump into revising and editing. Work on another project. Take a vacation. Finish the to-do list that’s been hanging on your refrigerator for the last three months. Then, when you’re ready to revise and edit, you’ll see your manuscript with fresh eyes.
Get Organized. Clean off your desk and give yourself a comfortable space to work. Get all research finished before you start revisions, and organize all your notes. Have any grammar or reference books you might need within easy reach.
Clear your calendar. Tell your family and friends you’re busy, clear your calendar, and designate time to get the revisions done. Prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them. Hire a dogsitter. Send the kids to Grandma’s house. Do whatever you have to do to free up time.
Set a goal. Decide on a page count goal and stick to it. Don’t stop until you’re done.
Read and take notes. Read all the way through the entire manuscript once and make notes. Make a list of questions that need to be answered and scenes you need to add. Jot down places where you need to add more details. Decide where chapter breaks need to be. Stay connected to the story.
Take one bite at a time. Once you’ve read through the entire manuscript, break it into 20 or 30 page chunks. Focus only on these pages and look for specific things.
Play nice. Only let your internal editor come out if he/she promises to play nice. It’s ok to be critical of your work, but don’t change things so much that you lose your voice as a writer. Your voice makes you who you are.
Things to look for when revising and editing:
- Include the senses in every scene. Include details, but not excessive details. Leave room for the imagination.
- Make sure the plot makes sense. Every scene should move the story forward. Kill the fancy sentences that don’t move the plot along. Refer back to your storyboard if necessary.
- Keep your Point of View consistent throughout.
- Create believable tension on every page. Your characters should have goals and motivation, but there should be conflict that keeps them from achieving their goal. Keep their goal just out of reach until the very end. The reader has to want to continue the journey to see what happens.
- Prompts and hooks. Hook readers with the opening lines. Leave a chapter with a question. Make the reader want to know what’s going to happen next.
- Make your dialogue real. Eliminate small talk. Characters should speak their personality, gender, and age. There is nothing wrong with he said, she said, but use action tags or beats if you can.
- Balance dialogue, introspection, and action.
- Look for cliches.
- Ditch the backstory. Give the reader the tip of the iceberg by weaving in small bits of information. Let them wonder about the rest.
- Reveal character quirks and ticks.
- Make sure you don’t have too many story threads. All threads should lead back to the main trail.
- Create a balance between long sentences and shorter ones. See the example below.
- Tighten word choice. Eliminate filler words and use strong action verbs. Check for redundancy. Avoid flowery writing.
- Create smooth transitions.
- Edit for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and verb tense. Many sources suggest reading through your manuscript backwards to catch grammar and spelling mistakes you might otherwise overlook. And reading out loud allows you to hear errors you might not see through reading.
Once you’ve cleaned up the mess, let the book sit for at least a week before you read through it one more time. Then hand it to a critique partner who can give you constructive feedback.
Everyone has their own style when it comes to revising and editing. Some writers are very systematic, others are more relaxed about the process. Do whatever works for you. When I revise and edit, I end up reading through my manuscript multiple times. I concentrate on something different every time. My first read might focus on dialogue. The next time I read through it, I might add details or delete unnecessary scenes and sentences. There is no right or wrong way to clean up your writing. It’s simply a matter of preference.
Good self-editing tips.
If you’re editing or revising your manuscript, this is good to keep in mind.
Day seven of author confessions- What word do you use way too much?
This question makes me laugh because I have many words I use too often–looked, laughed, smiled. When I write a draft, the main purpose is to get the story on paper. Revising and editing, along with the many writing resources I own, clean up the writing and allow me to insert or change words and phrases into something more descriptive and fluid. That stage takes a long time only because I try to express character actions and feelings in creative ways without using unnecessary vocabulary or losing my unique writing voice.
Good article about editing.
Well that is true, but it’s only one type of editing, and there are three different types listed in the article. The article also noted that a novel length manuscript needed to go through all three types before it was submission ready.
Developmental Edit – better known as the content editing, story editing, structural editing or substantive editing. This edit looks at the big picture of your novel and focuses on
- character arcs/development
- story structure
- pot holes or inconsistencies
- strong beginning, middle and end
- clear transitions
- point of view
- showing vs. telling
Copy Edit – copy editing is the one most of us think of when we hear editor. He comes on the…
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If you’re in that editing stage and looking for some tips, this is helpful.
Now that I’ve published my first novel, To Hunt a Sub, I can say from experience that writing it and editing it took equally long periods of time (and marketing is just as involved). After finishing the final rough draft (yeah, sure) and before emailing it to an editor, I wanted it as clean possible. I searched through a wide collection of self-editing books like these:
The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne
The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall
…and came up with a list of fixes that I felt would not only clean up grammar and editing, but the voice and pacing that seemed to bog my story down. Here are ideas you might like:
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Good information to know.
Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.
Courtesy of Adirondack Editing
Using Song Lyrics in your Manuscript
You’ve just written the most perfect restaurant love scene imaginable. As your two main characters unite on the dance floor, the haunting strains of “Unchained Melody” play in the background. The lovers gaze deeply into each other’s eyes as the song’s lyrics pass through their ears, melding their souls together in acoustical rapture:
Wait! Stop! Halt!! Turn off the radio, unplug the phonograph, and disconnect your online radio station! Are you crazy? Are you looking for a lawsuit?
<Author looks around incredulously>
“Who, me? Now what does this woman want me to do? Eliminate the perfect words from this scene?”
Yep, that’s exactly what I want you to do. You’re not…
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I’m one of those writers, as I’m sure many of us are, who is never satisfied with my work. I could write the most glorious sentence or an epic scene in a book, yet no matter how many times I reread it, I will always find something wrong with it. It seems to be par for the course when it comes to the writing process, at least for me. Maybe it’s just the perfectionist in me, or maybe it’s because I know other people are going to read my work and compare me to their favorite well-known author, and I don’t want to sound like an ignorant buffoon. Whatever the reason, editing is the one stage in the writing process that I detest.
Although proper grammar is important, I’m not one to judge the entire worth of a person or their creative genius because of a typo or a misplaced comma. And if you really think about it, grammar rules seem to be changing all the time. Not only that, different editors look for different things. I can give my carefully edited manuscript to a completely different person to look over and they will detest the changes the previous editor made and find different elements that need to be revised. It’s a double edged sword.
Having another set of eyes look over your work is important, as they will see things that you, the author, missed. Your extra eyes will often come up with some great ideas you hadn’t thought of, but throw caution to the wind with this. Too many eyes and too much input can take away from the very voice you’re trying to project. I’m not saying don’t take advice from an editor, I’m simply saying to consider their input, but don’t lose your voice or who you are as a writer in the process.
People who offer critique often give input about how they would write that scene or how they would portray that character, and although their ideas may be wonderful, that might not be the direction you wanted the story to go. The next thing you know, your entire storyline has changed and the book you were once excited about, the one that really expressed who you are as a writer, now shows off someone else’s voice instead of yours. Remember whose story this is. If your name’s on it, it should be your voice the reader hears.
Even with an extra set of eyes and an editor’s input, there will still be people out there who won’t like your word choice. They’ll question your use of phrases, criticize your misplaced comma (even though you purposely put it there for dramatic effect), and some critical readers specifically look for grammar and spelling errors, as if their sole purpose in life is to crush every ounce of creativity within a writer’s already endless self-doubt. (Come on. You’ve all see those Amazon reviews: “Although I loved the story, I found three spelling errors.” A great book now has a one star review because a grammar Nazi is on the loose.)
As a writer, you get to the point where you’ve read through a document a hundred times, finding something else you want to change each time. But after awhile, you need to just tell yourself that you’re done. It’s finished. You’ve said what you wanted to say in the best way possible. Your voice has been heard. You also get to the point where you realize that not everyone is going to like your writing style. Some will hate what you do and be supercritical, others will love the content and crave your unique voice. It’s a matter of personal preference. There is no magic formula.
I don’t write for the masses. I have no desire to replicate or sound like another author. I don’t seek fame or fortune from my writing, and I am not out to top the national best sellers list. I refuse to get caught up in the conventions of a specific genre, giving up my voice in the process. I write what I want to write in my own unique way, using my voice, my characters, and my words.
The writing world is overstuffed with writers trying to replicate other writers. Seems like everyone wants to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. But I don’t want to be like the writers I love to read. In my opinion, it’s better to be different. It’s better to have a unique voice. Others may be able to write more fluently, use fancier words, or sound more poetic, but no one can write my story the way I can.
Dare to be different.