Editing Effectively: Things to Focus on When Self-Editing
The step after revising is the one despised by most writers. It can be tedious and annoying, and it’s often a cause for headaches. It’s one of the less creative aspects of writing, requiring you to look at not the content of your story but the way it’s conveyed. Importantly, there are many things to focus on when editing, and grammatical errors are only a small part of the section.
Here are some things you should do when editing:
Reverse Outline: Check again for plot holes and problems in consistency. You probably took care of most of these when revising, but a few holes may have snuck in. Now is the time to eliminate them once and for all. Another important thing to do during this step is making sure the structure of your plot is reasonable and you aren’t jumping around time unnecessarily. Make sure you aren’t repeating sentences or events on accident. Basically, make sure your story makes sense before taking care of the more specific stages of the editing process.
Word Count: If you don’t already know the industry standard word count for your genre and age range, research it now. Then, check your manuscript’s word count. Hopefully, after adding or removing subplots as needed when revising (you did that, right?), your novel is somewhat near your target word count range. Take some time to work on getting even closer to industry standard. If you are an overwriter, keep an eye out for fillers when editing. If you’re an underwriter, pay attention to underdeveloped scenes or places some imagery may be in order.
Chapter, Scene, and Paragraph Breaks: When you hit the enter button, you are giving your reader a moment to breathe and take in everything they have read thus far. Therefore, it’s important to use scene and paragraph breaks effectively and ensure that they contribute to a smoother and more meaningful reading experience. Additionally, chapters are like mini-books of their own. They should have a powerful beginning and an ending that makes the reader want to keep going. When editing, re-evaluate the places where you break your text and think about whether it would be better to end chapters and paragraphs earlier or later.
Line-by-Line Edits: The way your sentences are structured can greatly improve the reading experience of your novel. Sentences should vary between simple and complex, but every sentence should be easy to read and understand. The reader should be focusing on understanding your plot, not each individual sentence. You should also think about your syntax. For instance, the most important part of a sentence should be at the end, so that the reader can take a moment to think about what you say. You should also be careful not to overuse or underuse punctuation. Keep an eye out for and try to get rid of any words or phrases you use repetitively. Forcing yourself to read every word and line of your book can be difficult, but it’s necessary. Reading out loud can help you make sure you catch every awkward piece of dialogue and run-on sentence.
Grammar and Spelling: Once you are certain that you won’t be making further edits to the content of your story, re-read your manuscript, keeping an eye out for typos and grammatical errors. Then, use the spell-check on your writing software or paste chunks of your text into Grammarly to look for any errors you may have missed. Importantly, you should never accept suggestions until you look over them and make sure they are valid. Online softwares have a habit of adding unnecessary commas or marking your fantasy names as incorrectly spelled. They also miss errors often, which is why self-editing is so important.
You might find that you have to complete some of the above steps multiple times to be satisfied with it, and that’s okay. Editing is annoying, but it’s essential. It’s what turns your almost complete novel into a finished manuscript that’s ready to be self-published or submitted to agents. You already wrote, rewrote, and revised your novel. You can get through a few rounds of editing. And don’t be afraid to take a break if you need it. It’s really difficult to sit down and edit for hours at a time, so if you have to stop after thirty minutes, feel free to. Avoid burning yourself out this late in the writing process.
I actually find editing one of the easier parts of writing. It takes less energy, in my opinion, than revising. Do you enjoy editing? Let me know in the comments!