top of page
  • Writer's picturePhil Parker

How to edit your work

You’ve completed your first draft. The hard part is over, right?

I’m afraid not. Now it’s time to edit. A lot of writers baulk at the thought of editing their own work. If only you could be one of those authors who don’t need to edit, eh? Plot twist: no such author exists. Self-editing isn’t optional. Every writer must do it. But it needn’t be a dreaded task. Here are ten tips from a professional editor to help you self-edit your manuscript.

First, do all of the following before you begin:

Detach yourself from the first draft. No author can go straight from writing to editing and do a good job. Why? Because you’re too close. To do your project justice, take a break.

Know your editing stage. For the uninitiated, there are different types of editing:

  • Developmental editing. This is looking at the big-picture. It’s reviewing the plot as a whole – the characters and the sub-narratives – and making sure they work.

  • Line editing. This is as it sounds – going through your project line by line to make sure each sentence flows into the next, the pace is right and the narrative is smooth.

  • Copy-editing.This is about the nitty-gritty. It’s checking every word. Is it the best one? Is it spelled correctly? Is the punctuation right?

  • Proofreading.We editors call this the last line of defence. By the time you’re proofreading, your manuscript should be near perfect so you’re really looking for little errors that slipped through.

Toughen up.You know this won’t be easy. There will be difficult decisions. Prepare yourself for the challenge.

Now for the self-edit…

1, Cut redundant words

Example: John nodded his head.

Well, what else is he going to nod if not his head?

2. Avoid unusual speech tags

Example: ‘You’re so sweet,’ Lisa smiled.

Smiling is an action, not a way of saying something. Trust in ‘said’ – it’s good at its job.

3. Don't over-punctuate

Exclamation marks are usually the culprit – kill them. And while we’re on the topic of misuse, if you don’t know how a certain punctuation mark works (hello, semi-colon) then don’t force yourself to use it. No one will know.

4. Make your characters earn their place

Of course, you love your characters like children. But they don’t all deserve a spot on the roster. Make them earn it. How? One at a time, imagine your story without each character.

· Does the plot fall apart?

· Could another character take their place without much effort?

· Are they contributing to the narrative?

5. Be bold

Don’t flatten your descriptions with hedge words and weak adjectives.

Bad example: She was quite pretty.

Better example:She was radiant.

6. Keep it consistent

It doesn’t matter whether you use American English or British English; -ise endings or -ize endings; single quotes or double. Consistency is what matters. Pick one and stick to it.

7. Vary your dialogue tags

Dialogue tags help readers know who’s speaking. There are two kinds:

Speech tags – using a verb.

Action tags – using an action.

You’ll want to use a mix of both to vary the pace of your dialogue.

Example of speech tags: ‘I need more tea,’ said Chris.

Example of action tags: Chris switched on the kettle and grabbed a mug. ‘I need more tea.’

8. Use zombies to find passive voice

You’ve heard passive voice is bad but you’re not sure why and you struggle to identify it. Sound about right? Zombies can help. Passive voice is considered bad because:

  • It’s often wordier

  • It can make your message unclear

  • It can slow pace

Now, how to identify it. If you can add the phrase ‘by zombies’ to the end of your sentence, it’s passive.

Passive example:The church was built in 1587… by zombies.

Active example:Townsfolk built the church in 1587.

Side note – passive voice isn’t always bad. It’s useful when:

The doer is unknown. ‘My bike was stolen.’

The doer isn’t important. ‘The cat was kept in the house.’

9. Read your work aloud

Seriously, it’s a fool-proof way to spot errors. Better yet, use software on your computer to read it out for you. Word has a built-in function but there are online tools, too. Why is software better? Because our eyes tend to skip over words we’re familiar with, making us unreliable for this particular task.

10. Get outside help

You know the relationships and motives of each character perfectly. But will your reader? Before you present your book as ‘finished’, whether you’re self-publishing or going traditional, you need outside help from:

  • An alpha/beta reader, to provide advice and critique

  • A professional editor, to help with the levels of editing mentioned above

Jess Lawrence Freelance Editor


Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page