Self-editing tips and tricks

checklistAlthough you’ll almost certainly want to hire an editor to really polish your writing, you can do many things to save on those editing costs. Some of those things have already been discussed in some detail in the “How Much Does Editing Cost” and “Finding the Editor You Need” posts.  These items include:

  • Ask friends (who have good reading/writing skills) to do a “beta-read” of the manuscript and give you suggestions.
  • Take a good writing course, and learn to write better to start with. (Make sure it is a “good” course – get references!)
  • Ask an English teacher or other non-professional editor to go over the manuscript for a reasonable price before professional editing.
  • Use good spell-checker and good grammar-checker software.

Here are some other tips:

  • Start at the end of the manuscript. Scroll backwards slowly through the manuscript. You’ll be surprised at what “pops up.”
  • Start at the end of the manuscript, and read paragraph by paragraph. Or read the last chapter first and move back to the opening chapter.
  • If you are getting friends to beta-read, put together a list of questions for them to answer, such as: How does the book read? Did you find the story interesting/ exciting/ boring/ (etc.)? Why? What did you like? Dislike? Did you find errors that I made repeatedly? What were they?
  • Purchase a style guide suited to the type of writing you do. Go through it, and learn the rules. Study the guide. Paying between about $20 to $40 for a guide can improve your writing and style greatly, and save you hundreds of dollars in editing costs. Some of the most widely used guides are Strunk & White’s ” (the “bible” of basic writing style for all writers), the Associated Press Style Manual (for journalism and feature writing), the Chicago Manual of Style (for technical and educational work, and also for literary works), the APA Guide (for social sciences), and the Turabian Style Guide (for research papers, theses, etc.). You’ll also want a good dictionary and thesaurus, and probably one of the standard writing handbooks.
  • Keep your audience in mind.  What country will most readers be from?  Consistently use spelling and expressions that suit your audience. There are style guides to help you with that, for example, Dundurn Press publishes The Canadian Style.
  • Understand that even the best editors ask others to edit their work. We “see” what we expect to see, what we “thought” we wrote. It is extremely unlikely that you can pick up on all your errors and your writing flaws.
  • Read your piece several times. Break your editing into levels and choose just a few things to watch for with each reading. Start with simple elements first, like spelling and grammar. If you notice other kinds of mistakes, make a note of them, and edit for those later.
  • As you read, use a ruler or piece of colourful paper under each line to improve your concentration on the copy.
  • Use an editing checklist to help you remember things to watch out for.
  • Read your work aloud. And ask someone else to read your work aloud as you listen. You will quickly be able to pick out sections that don’t come across to the reader as you intended. Listen for errors in sense, sound and judgment.
  • Let your copy sit at least overnight, and preferably for a week or so, and you will be much more likely to find errors than if you self-edit immediately.
  • Learn to use basic proofreader’s marks on hard copy, or use the editing tools that come with your word-processing software. Then when you have an editor check your work, you’ll immediately recognize and understand their markings.
  • Punctuation rules vary according to the style chosen. The important thing is that you choose an appropriate style, and follow it consistently.
  • Law of simplicity: Don’t use a paragraph when a sentence will do; don’t use a sentence when a phrase will do; don’t use a phrase when a word will do; and don’t use a ten-dollar word when a nickle one will do. Remember, your goal is to communicate with your reader.
  • Remember that people read better, faster, and with greater comprehension when the writing is simple, clear and concise.
  • Make every word add to the meaning. Use words that help people sense what you are saying. Use words that appeal to the senses (add color, shape, texture, size, weight, emotion, etc.). Simple but evocative!
  • Watch out for use of jargon, cliches, platitudes, buzzwords, coined words, and bureaucratic language, as well as use of phrases and words that could have different meanings to different readers. If using acronyms, be certain your audience will recognize them; it is best to write out the full phrase the first time you use it.
  • While it is true that you might decide to “break a writing rule” to create a special effect, you should still check to make sure it really has turned out as you intended.
  • For an excellent list of writing aspects to consider before sending your work to an editor, see Florence Osmund’s article, “Your Final Manuscript Review(s).”
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