NOTE: Since publishing this post, the original content has been updated to include more tips/techniques.
Every writer has his or her own technique to self-editing and there is no wrong way to go about it. All I can do is share how I edit my books to help you develop your own technique.
Step 1: Give it a rest!
After you spend months or years (in most cases) writing a book, it is always a good idea to put it down for a while. Give yourself some space from the characters you’ve been writing about. Give your brain a vacation! Celebrate the fact that you finished your book while your body rejuvenates. During this “vacation” you can work on another story, but whatever you do, don’t touch a single printed manuscript page, or open the file for your book, until time passes! This time period can range from a week, a month, or even a year; whatever you feel is best for you. Just don’t jump into editing immediately after finishing the piece, because you need to let your work stew.
Step 2: Cut it out!
Once I am ready to begin editing, the first thing I always do is make sure there is no passive voice or clichés in my writing. My trick to check for this is to use Microsoft Word’s nifty “Find” tool that will allow you to search an entire document for a word or phrase. For instance: if I enter “was” into the tool, I can go through the whole document to make sure every time I used the word “was." Or I can search for “Sigh of relief,” so I can either remove the cliché or rewrite it.
Some of these words are: that, just, like, really, very, only
Step 3: Read It
Read your manuscript from beginning to end, keeping an eye out for slipping tenses (the moment when you accidentally use “is” instead of “was” for past tense), passive voice, head hopping, and other glaring grammar mistakes. Also read every sentence carefully, rewriting them, deleting them, or rearranging them as necessary.
Step 4: Read It Again
Step 5: Get Two or Three Beta Readers
Let beta readers look at your book one at a time, and then implement their suggestions and other changes as you go.
Step 6: Read It Once More
Having to read your manuscript over and over again can be tough, so here are five editing techniques that can help you to shake things up:
Step 7: Print Out Your Manuscript
Having a tangible form of your book that you can hold and edit by hand is always useful. Buy some red pens and highlighters, punch holes into your manuscript pages, and put them in a binder for accessibility. Read each page, each line. Cut out words, sentences, and whatever else needs to go. Add words and paragraphs of description. Make notes on the side to fix scenes or add more emotion. When you’re done, transport the changes to your computer document.
TIP: Reading through the full story after these changes are made is wise.
Step 8: Read Backward
Start with the final paragraph, read it in its entirety, and work your way up, paragraph by paragraph. This technique helps you to focus on the sentences rather than the plot. It’s also a great way for you to focus on the flow of the sentences.
Step 9: Change the Font Size and Color
Changing the way something looks gives your brain a rest and a way to spot new things. I like to make the font size 16 or 18 and change the color to dark blue, green, or purple.
Step 10: Download Your Document to Your Kindle or Tablet
This can be easily done by emailing the document to yourself, accessing your email on your device, and opening the document to be viewed in your library. Or you can use your Kindle email. This is usually my final form of editing when I feel I’ve edited my book as much as I can but still want to make sure it’s ready for someone else to view it. I like this technique because I get to see and read my story as a reader would. I can spot inconsistencies, typos, and places where I may need to add more emotion.
Step 11: Have Word Read It
Above the toolbar in Word, you'll see the floppy disk save icon. Close to it is a little drop down arrow for "Customize Quick Access Tool Bar." Click on it and then click on "More Commands." In the drop down for "Choose Commands From," select "All Commands." Then scroll down, select "speak," click "add" and then "ok." Now an icon with a dialogue box has been added to the top of the toolbar, beside that drop down arrow. Highlight the text you want read and listen to Word read it to you. It can be a bit slow, but you can catch errors with way; I've caught errors in my books during the audiobook process while listening to chapters my narrator created, so I do believe this works.
The thing that all writers quickly learn is that editing is never over until your book is published. Don’t feel daunted by that prospect though! Take it one step at a time and only when you are ready.
Be patience, stay confident, and one day your manuscript will shine.
QUESTION: Do you have your own editing process/tips? Share it!