Professional editor Jessica Bell, an Australian author and poet living in Athens, Greece, shares her top tips for polishing your fiction writing. Her advice will help you make your book the best it can be, prior to publication. This post complements Derek Murphy's recent article about employing editors.
Ugh. It’s time to edit your novel. What a drag, right? It doesn’t have to be.
If you take a systematic approach, you can make sure you catch as many mistakes and writing pitfalls as possible without feeling overwhelmed by it all.
I’ve been an editor for more than ten years, and there is the one rule I live by which gets excellent results every time: edit piece by piece.
Sound ambiguous? Let me explain.
The Editing Process
When we read a manuscript from beginning to end, we aren't able to concentrate on every detail at once.
For example, let’s say you’ve read through the first chapter of your manuscript and the only error you notice is the word cafe lacking the accent on the e. Easy. You fix it. And you make a mental note to catch that as you go along.
But in the next chapter, you come across an awkwardly structured sentence, an embarrassing grammatical error, a character that is speaking in a way that sounds like another character, and you seem to have used the word look way too many times in one paragraph.
That’s a lot to fix. But you do it fix it, and all seems like it’s in order.
But guess what? You were so focussed on fixing these things, that you didn’t notice the other instance of cafe lacking the accent on the e. And now that you’ve reworded a few things, you’ve also buggered up your punctuation, and introduced a new spelling mistake. Whoops.
It isn’t necessary to have the “whoops.”
When editing, you can't expect to do a good job if you read through your book from beginning to end and hope to see the mistakes as you go. You are bound to miss things. Many things.
The Most Efficient Way to Self-Edit
The most efficient way to edit, is to isolate all the things you need to fix, and focus on fixing one thing on your list, before moving onto the next.
- For example, you could start with your first line hook. Is it compelling enough?
- Then move onto character consistency and point of view switches. Are your characters distinguishable from each other? Focus on one character at a time and making their voices unique.
- Then go on to wheedle out redundant dialogue tags and/or replace them with action, tighten your descriptions, make your chapter endings pop, remove superfluous and overused words, vary sentence structure so you don’t use too many personal pronouns, check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
- Then, move on to reading your manuscript from beginning to end.
- Even better, read it aloud, or use a text-to-voice generator.
Editing doesn’t have to be daunting if you focus on one thing at a time. And once you’re done, your book will shine.
This article draws on Jessica's new writing guide, Polish Your Fiction: A Quick & Easy Self-Editing Guide.
“1 Easy System for Self-Editing Your #Writing by @MsBessieBell: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-how-to-self-edit-your-novel #editing via @IndieAuthorALLi”