Everyone knows we should have an editor before publishing our stories. Publishers give manuscripts to editors, and self-publishers search out and pay editors.
And that makes sense. It’s always good to have more than just the writer’s eyes on the tale.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t thoroughly edit your short story, novella or novel before handing it to a bunch of beta readers or a pro editor.
Personally, I use three levels of editing with my stories. I firmly believe it is the job of the author to make the story as good as possible on their own and not to rely on outside help too much.
So here’s what I do:
Level 1: Spellcheck / copy editing
Actually, I have the spellcheck running even as I write, and yes, I fix the words as I write. And I enter the weird names of my characters into my word processor’s library so it actually can check even them. (I just found the name of a major character misspelled in a book I read. That felt very jarring.) We have awesome technology for writing by now. USE it.
Or course, English also offers a lot of homophones – words that sound the same, but mean something entirely different. (bear – bare / whole – hole, e.g.) As writer, it is your job to know these words and use them correctly. Spellcheck won’t catch those, and they are the real kickers. Watch out for them.
Level 2: Did you say what you really wanted to say?
English is a wonderful language with more words than any other in Western culture. That in turn means most words are quite precise in what they describe. Unfortunately, it also means you must work on expanding your vocabulary, so you can use those many words well.
I often read back before writing a new scene, and sometimes find confusing or obscure sentences in my writing. Then I stop for a moment and ask myself that very question: What did I want to say there? Usually, clarity comes and I do a quick edit to make that part clear and clean.
Level 3: Cut the drivel!
At a bet, every story contains waffling. Padded scenes. Endless discussions.
All of this should go. If you read the story and find yourself skipping sentences or even paragraphs – cull them. Because your readers will do the same, and it will make the reading less enjoyable. Keep your story ticking along at a good pace – yes, breathers are okay, but don’t let the reader go to sleep.
Here’s one example from my current writing:
Old version: Dorelle gradually woke. Slowly she became aware of the soft, warm bed. Then she noticed the firm, warm presence next to her and finally the two dragon minds just a few lengths away.
Edited version: Dorelle became aware of the soft, warm bed, of the firm, warm presence next to her, and then of the two dragon minds just a few lengths away.
See the difference? It’s a tiny fix, but it shifts the pace. Better flow, faster start – I cut the drivel. And I trust the reader to get what I’m describing without spelling it all out.
Bonus level: Read the whole story out loud.
I mean it. Even if it’s a novel. That might take you a day or two, and it might cost you your voice – but it is guaranteed to find more spelling mistakes, grammar problems and sloppy writing than anything else.
Notice where your voice falters. Notice where you stop because the words don’t flow easily.
Those are the places to fix.
And once you’ve gone through all of these levels, your manuscript is ready to be seen by more eyes.
What’s your best editing tip? Share in the comments, so we can give the world better books.
Image Source: F. Moebius
PS: If editing really bothers you, and you feel that you cannot bear to change anything in your story, there is usually a limiting belief at work. It may have to do with your concept of talent or your idea of how a writer must work. And this belief could hurt your career as writer by preventing you to create the best story possible.
As a coach, it hurts me to see these things happening. Let me help you. Click HERE, send off that email and we’ll talk about how I can help you become a better writer.