If there is one thing I keep telling myself as a writer, it is to keep going until I get to the two best words in the entire book: “The End.” The second thing I tell myself as I’m plugging away through chapters upon chapters is to not worry about the state of the manuscript. I should get the words down first, then go back and edit. If you write with the goal of seeing your book published with a major house, you know that after you sign a contract you will likely be assigned an editor to assist you with polishing the work for publication. Regardless, it is important that your book sees a few rounds of self-edits before you send it to anybody for evaluation.
That said, I’m happy to share a few tips on self-editing which I hope you will find useful. I’m aware that every author has a unique style, and no doubt that extends from writing to editing. If you are new to both, you’re welcome to benefit from these practices that I observe in my own self-editing.
1) Try not to edit as you write. This is a great temptation, I know. You will open up your manuscript with the intent of lengthening it, and you end up spending most of your writing time going over what you already wrote to correct minor errors. Let me tell you this: stop right now. Eventually your book will be thoroughly edited, and I believe the best time to do that is after it is written. I find that when I edit during my writing time I am thrown off track. I become so obsessed with filling in holes and crossing T’s that, when I am free to write, my creativity has suffered. If you can, never mind that glaring extra comma and get the story finished.
2) Once you finish the book, set it aside for a few days before you get to work on edits. At this point, you have spent so much time with your book that it is almost necessary to create some distance so you can return to your story with fresh eyes and a clear mind. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to spot errors when you have taken a vacation from your work.
3) Keep a cheat sheet as you edit. This is important for keeping track of things like names and places, a character’s eye color, hair color, age, and other distinguishing features and habits. Part of editing a work involves consistency throughout the story, and if your main character shifts from blue eyes to green, then back to blue toward the end of the book, readers will catch it.
4) Do not rely on spell check to find your errors. The spell check feature on your word processing program is not foolproof, and if you have worked with it long enough you may be perplexed to find it sometimes marks correct words and doesn’t flag homonyms. In order to properly proof your book, you must go over it yourself.
Hopefully these tips will help jump start the self-editing process and allow you to properly polish your manuscript for submission. Above all else, be patient as you edit. A book written well is definitely worth the wait.
Kathryn Lively is a freelance writer and editor who writes articles on self-publishing services and freelance editing services. She is also a mystery author – her books Dead Barchetta and Pithed are now available for Kindle.