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Tips for Preparing Your Book for an Edit

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The story is discovered during the editing process.

But here’s the problem: Writers aren’t editors and editors aren’t writers— at least not at the same time. When you edit your work, you’ll need to access a different part of your brain. So, to help you make the switch from writing to editing, we’re sharing a few essential transition tips below.

Dive in. The water’s fine.

Let it rest

The first commandment of editing your own work is to walk away from it. The shift from writer to editor doesn’t happen immediately.

So, how long should you wait before editing?

It depends on how long it takes for you to forget about the fine details. While you’ll still know the basic story, you may forget how you told it. That’s the perfect time to come back because you’ll have fresh eyes. This process happens surprisingly quickly, generally within a few weeks. If you can give yourself a solid four weeks before returning to edit, you’ll be in a better position to edit objectively.

Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

When we read our own writing silently, we have a tendency to autocorrect. Because the brain knows what you’re attempting to say, it just fills in the gaps without even missing a beat.

It’s harder for your brain to autocorrect when you read out loud. You’re processing the words on two different levels: On the first level, you’re absorbing the story. On the other level, you’re hearing how the story sounds. Reading out loud gives you a sense of flow and the cadence of your story. This is how your reader will experience your story.

This method can also help you identify awkward phrasing and typos.

AVOID SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES

One of the most common writing problems is a shifting perspective. It’s easy to shift the story’s perspective without even recognizing it.

Here’s how it happens: You start off in one person’s head and then accurately share the thoughts, emotions, and motivations of another. For example:

“Cindy clung to the picture frame as she spoke to Vince from the stairs. She wiped the tears from her eyes. Vince was disheartened.

Because Cindy is the protagonist, you’re following her and seeing the world through her perspective. The reader experiences the world through her eyes, too. This means that you can’t know what’s going on in Vince’s mind, too. How could know that Vince is disheartened? Show what Cindy sees and hears. That’s how she knows. Don’t draw conclusions for the reader. Make sure that they’re inside of the scene as opposed to reading a summary of what happens.

REMOVE THROAT CLEARING

In the world of novel writing, “throat clearing” is when you introduce a point or a scene with unnecessary words, phrases, paragraphs, et al. If you find yourself “setting the scene” before getting into the action, you’re throat clearing. Throat clearing is the literary equivalent to arriving at a scene too early.

Instead of explaining what the reader will see, show the reader what’s happening as the story unfolds.

DO A SENTENCE BY SENTENCE CHECK

I’m not going to lie to you, this part is tedious, but it’s also necessary.

When editing your story, examine each sentence, word for word. Ask yourself:

  • Does this sentence make sense?
  • Does this sentence move the scene forward or share insight into the character’s motivation?
  • Can I delete any extra words from this sentence?
  • Can I simplify this sentence using smaller, more familiar words?
  • Can I combine multiple sentences into one?
  • If I deleted this sentence, would the reader still understand the scene/ story/ character’s motivation?

Use these questions to audit every sentence in your story.

LET THE MANUSCRIPT REST AGAIN

You’ve done a lot of work. In editing your first draft, you’ve likely written a second draft. Congratulations. That’s no easy feat.

But before you continue to the next steps, take a breather for a few weeks.

KILL ADVERBS

Hello class, today we’re going to talk about adverbs. Adverbs are modifiers. They describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They answer the following questions:

How?

She sings. How? She sings badly.

Where?

He arrived. Where? He arrived here.

When?

She started the job. When? She started the job yesterday.

How Much?

He was tired. How much? He was very tired.

How Often?

She cries. How often? She cries frequently.

Now, before this turns into a full-blown 6th-grade grammar class lesson, let’s talk about the use of adverbs in your novel. They must die.

Okay, not all adverbs are bad. In fact, adverbs are necessary for the English language and have a rightful place as one of the eight parts of speech. However, not all adverbs are created equally. In literature, some adverbs are less desirable than others.

Any adverb that ends in -ly has no place in your novel. You know, words like viciously, beautifully, coolly, tremendously, truthfully, desperately, abruptly, helplessly, clearly, and the list goes on.

It’s hard to get rid of -ly words because they’re embedded into our everyday vernacular. They are conversational. And that’s precisely why you shouldn’t use them in your novel.

Adverbs with -ly tend to slow the pace. They also tell what’s happening. They don’t show. You can either say “angrily” or you could show the character’s eyes narrowing by your descriptive text. Don’t say she was happy, show her smile and let the reader pick up on the contextual clues. Your reader is smart. Paint the picture with words and let them come to the right conclusion.

Now, those with a careful eye have already spotted my seeming hypocrisy. Yes, I’m guilty of using -ly adverbs in this post. However, blog posts are conversational by nature. Novels are not. Pick every word. Be sure that the word doesn’t cheat the reader by telling them what happens instead of showing them the action.

CHECK FOR TYPOS AND MISSPELLINGS

Once you’re satisfied with your edits, it’s time to edit again. This time for typos, misspellings, and awkward phrasing, i.e. proofread.

Proofreading is an important part of the process, but one that should only happen after you’ve fine-tuned the story.

Proofreading should only happen after you've done this:

Otherwise, you’ll likely waste your time. Imagine proofreading your novel first and then deciding that you needed to take away or add(!) a large section or two.

Fortunately, we live in the age of spell check.

But one of the best writing hacks is to write your first draft with the spell check turned off. Those squiggly red lines can distract you from writing the darn story. But now that you're in editing mode, you can turn spell check on.

Don’t just settle for the built-in spell check on your word processor.

Two of my favorite editing apps are Grammarly and Hemingway. Grammarly searches for spelling errors and typos and offers suggestions. Hemingway helps you simplify your writing so that it appeals to a broader spectrum of readers. It scores your novel's readability and it also highlights possible problems in your draft, such as adverbs and passive voice.

Additional Resources

When it’s time to edit your manuscript, implement the above tips. And then reach out to us for one of our editing services. You can find a summary of our services here.

Here are a few extra resources to help you on your editing quest:

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