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Ten Tips for Successful Self-Editing

Editing your own novel is an arduous task. It does take a ton of dedication and resilience to successful edit your own novel and have it ready for publication. I’ve put together a list of the top 10 tips to successfully edit your novel and not let it drive you into insanity

1. Let it sit

“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.”

Stephen King

When you finish writing your novel, take a break. Don’t dive straight into editing. I find that you need to remove yourself from the content for a while so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes. You are so focused in on each individual detail that you really do need to take a step back, take a break, and then come back to view the novel as a whole.

Finish your novel and leave it for a few days, a week or a few weeks and then come back to it anew. When you take a break your mind stops being accustomed to what you’ve written and you can see it in a different light.

2. Print it out

I personally find it easier to edit when my novel is in a different format. I print out my work and will go through it with a red pen, like I’m marking it, and edit firstly this way. It really does help to put your work into a different format and see it on paper, rather than just on screen. I often see mistakes easier on paper and can correct things as I go with a red pen, and then change the document on my computer.

3. Read it out loud

You really understand how bad a sentence sounds when you read it out loud. Often you can read a sentence in your head differently than it’s written, since your mind can flip words around so that they make sense. You have no option but to read it exactly as it’s written when you say it out loud. This is effective in recognising bad sentence structure, excessively long sentences and incorrect grammar.

4. Break it into smaller tasks

Don’t tackle your entire novel in one hit – that’s just crazy talk. If you look at your novel without narrowing it down, editing seems impossible. You need to break the editing process up so that the task doesn’t appear unbearable. Edit one or two chapters at a time and give yourself sufficient time in-between chapters to break away from editing.

Focus on small tasks and eventually you will have edited your entire novel. It’s important to take time editing and not try to edit everything at once, because that will just stress you out and you’ll miss a lot of things that could have been changed. Slow and steady wins the race! Break up your novel a chapter at a time and you’ll edit more effectively.

5. Eliminate weak adjectives

I use weak adjectives occasionally in blog writing and some other forms of writing, but never in my novels. Adjectives can be powerful, but sentences can be more powerful without them. Saying ‘it was really good’ sounds quite weak, but when you write ‘it was excellent’, it’s powerful and has more impact. This creates meaningful writing, rather than just filler words.

Using less weak adjectives also creates powerful writing and draws the reader in more. When you’re using strong words, people want to read more. When you use weak adjectives, it can be distracting and make sentences seem less important.

6. Cut long sentences into shorter ones

This is admittingly one of my pet peeves. I can’t stand seeing a sentence that is basically a paragraph long! It’s grammatically incorrect and frustrating to read – I always think ‘when is this sentence going to freaking end?’ when I come across an excessively long sentence.

Don’t fall into the trap of writing without checking grammar – ensure that you have commas and if you can see a lengthy sentence, try to break it up. Two shorter sentences are more powerful than one excessively long sentence.

7. Take a break

Take breaks. Make sure you schedule breaks in and don’t spend every moment of free time editing. You’ll go stir-crazy if you spend every single second of your spare time editing, make sure to give yourself time to rest and get away from editing.

Be careful not to take too much of a break, though. Don’t let one free afternoon turn into two, then a week, and then months of not editing. You don’t want to fall into the procrastination trap, so you need to schedule and be determined to write, but take small breaks as you need them.

I am a master scheduler and I find this really helps in the editing world! I schedule myself time for editing, time for writing and time to relax. I write and edit better when I’ve given myself a day or two to just laze around our go out with friends. Your entire life doesn’t revolve around just editing – there’s plenty of time to get it done so make sure you live your life as well!

8. Don’t be afraid to cut out content

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

Dr. Seuss

Having one page of impactful writing is 10x more significant than three pages of fluff. Make your writing purposeful and meaningful – don’t just fill pages with words. It can appear better to have 300 pages, but if 100 of those are useless information or adjectives, it’s better to have 200 pages.

I find I can waffle when I originally write. I can put in useless information and a plethora of meaningless words. You edit to get rid of useless information and create meaningful writing. Let your reader have some imagination in your world and don’t map out every inch of every room.

Keep your content simple and purposeful. Everything you include in your novel should have a purpose, so don’t write just to fill up pages. A smaller, impactful book will sell more than a large book filled with useless information.

9. Use Grammarly

Programs like Grammarly are a godsend! I always pride myself on being good at grammar and punctuation, but even I can miss a bit. Grammarly is an amazing system that picks up mistakes and it is always my first point of call!

I will send my manuscript through Grammarly first, to pick up any mistakes. It is seriously a brilliant program that helps editing so much! I seriously implore you to use this program to assist editing so that your grammar and punctuation can be fixed before you jump into editing. I also recommend sending your manuscript through the program again when you’ve finished re-writes and your last draft, so that it can pick up any new or remaining mistakes.

10. Edit, edit, edit

“Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity…edit one more time!”

CK Webb

Don’t edit just once! You need to edit multiple times to perfect your writing. It can be quite tedious but it really is necessary. Three is usually my magic number and I go through my entire novel three times to perfect it to what I want it to be.

I pop it through Grammarly, then edit and rewrite the entire novel three times, and then I pop it through Grammarly again. I find this system works the best for me, but some people edit more than I do.

I struggle a bit with perfectionism so I’ve capped myself at three times so I don’t edit so many times that my novel starts to suffer (over-editing is a very real thing). Three works for me, but find a number that works for you and stick with it. The final run-through is the last and then you should focus on releasing it to the public.

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