Self Editing your book takes years and if you know what needs to be done in order to make the first draft a final one then this guide is for you.
Kill your darlings — as the Nobel laureate William Faulkner once said, and years later we’re still abiding by this greatest piece of advice given on writing. In any story, there are layers of effort neatly folded around many consecutive reruns, and that’s what makes it stand out. First drafts are usually the loose threads connected with a bleak knot, but editing is what fastens them together and compiles them into a new whole. As an author, you can either outsource the editing work to tick one thing off your list or consistently practice editing to master the knack of it.
Even though the latter may seem tiresome, it is actually a fun process once you’re past two chapters and you start getting the hang of it. Not only do you ensure maximum satisfaction, but also improve your diction manifolds and gain quite a lot of long term skills for your future projects. We have compiled a list of 20 easy, doable and game-changing tips that you need to follow while self-editing your book, and we promise your book will be ready to take rounds right after!
Let’s get started:
1. Stop Editing, Rewrite Instead
Didn’t see this one coming now, did you? If there’s any bit of your story that you think could use some tweaking, do not break your head against a wall trying to make it sound perfect. Select that specific part and begin rewriting it from the scratch, you’ll be amazed at the outcome. Not only will you get two different alternatives, but it’ll also pave the way for picking up the following scenes, giving your story a much wider scope.
2. Avoid Epithets, Use Names
This is the most sound advice you’ll get regarding dialogues that include a conversation about a character. With the attention span that we have these days, nobody recollects a character they read 7 pages before. Be specific and use names instead. For example avoid sentences like “the girl with a mole above the lip, whom he saw last night showed up at this doorstep.” Allow the readers to make a personal connection with the main character and/or resonate with somebody in their lives.
3. Eliminate Tags
When only two people are having a conversation in your story, there’s absolutely no reason for you to include their names at the end of each dialogue spoken by them. Just write the dialogues after entering, one after another. For example: in the following dialogues, name tags are redundant. “Did you see something unusual?” Enquired Jay.
“Unusual, like what?” Asked Daisy.
“Something just seemed odd!” Affirmed Jay.
“You’re being paranoid.” Said Daisy.
4.Quit Explaining Away Sentences
Using too much of “because” in your sentences can make your readers feel grossed out at the omnipresence. What if you explain your character’s sentences but you’re not even supposed to know them in the first place? Sounds odd, right? For example, “She declined Anthony’s proposal because her heart was elsewhere, clasped as it was in Matt’s embrace.” If you’re writing your book in the first person, get rid of these irregularities. Instead, use “As the expression of dismay grew dense on her face, it didn’t take long before the refusal came through. There was no way Anthony could ever have take Matt’s.” Sounds better, doesn’t it?
5. The Character Approach
Make a list of all the characters from the most important to the least, and beginning with the first one, do a name wise global search. Make sure everything about that character is aligned at all parts in the book, from the climax to the character arc, their relationships with each other and the factual details. Once the character memorandum is revised and you’ve edited one character at a time, half the job will be done on the spot.
6. Be Highly Specific
Readers want details, every specification weaves a set of intricacies in the reader’s mind, eventually adding up to the bigger picture. If you come across generalised elements in the editing round, CHOP CHOP. For example: deleting sentences like “as you know”, “as they say”, “one should never” and more. Tell the readers what you have to offer, not what is already in the books. Always remember, originality is the key. (Yes, we noticed the irony too.)
7. Non-Verbal Delivery
Non-verbal cues are the rescue points of good writing. We can’t emphasise enough the impact of action well explained on the minds of readers. After you’re done with the first draft, scrounge through the lines and kill all possible adverbs. For example, notice the difference between these two lines — “it’s okay”, she said nervously.” and “She started fiddling with her watch, gulped in exasperation and muttered a faint “it’s okay.” which one would you go for? Don’t tell us, choose for yourselves.
8. Chapter-wise Critical Reviews
If you have some possible beta readers in your mind, ask them to give you chapter-wise feedback. Beta readers usually take long before reading the book thoroughly and hinting at the irregularities. To follow an in-depth edit, ask specific chapter wise questions about them spotting redundancy, whether or not the cliffhanger and climax are in place, what idea does the character give off, and then align their response with the story you have in your mind. You’ll be stunned at the results.
9. Remove Discrepancy
Discrepancies in character-specific details are so common. Sometimes the characters are picked up from a real person and authors inadvertently add details that are not in the book. This may lead to dissimilarities related to fictional characters amidst chapters. For example: Using “her bronze tainted cheeks brushed softly against mine” in one chapter and “her face glowed like a white dove perched in a sea of lusture” in another embeds ambiguity about the complexion of the person being talked out and derails the imaginative trench of readers.
10. Exhibit Rawness
Do you think your sentences are too carefully curated and neatly phrased? Sometimes, you have to go headfirst into it for your sentences to hit the readers. This can be done by not overusing synonyms and getting rid of jargons wherever necessary. Think of all the quotes that made you feel what they did, why do you think that happened? For example: “Sometimes being offered tenderness feels like the very proof that you’ve been ruined.” This is a quote from On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. No fancy words, no deep metaphors, just a plain but outright bold thought.
11. Identify Good-Bad Adverbs
In simple terms, adverbs are words that define how something is being done. However, some adverbs account for redundancy and make the text sound very basic and premature. They’re easily identifiable — “He banged his door loudly” or “She wept sadly” or “He whispered softly” these are all examples of bad adverb.
In the book Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark, he says “To understand the difference between a good adverb and a bad adverb, consider these two sentences: “She smiled happily” and “She smiled sadly.” Which one works best? The first seems weak because “smiled” contains the meaning of “happily.” On the other hand, “sadly” changes the meaning. Remember the song “Killing Me Softly”? Good adverb. How about “Killing Me Fiercely”? Bad adverb.” We think that says it all.
12. Run Through An E-reader
After you’ve written the entire book, reading the same text all over again sounds like a very tedious affair. To avoid the same voice inside your head going over the same content, over and again, you could look at the free E-reading applications available. You have an option of adjusting the pace, pitch, voice, accent and volume according to your preference and can easily spot if some paragraph doesn’t sound captivating enough.
13. Resist Using Overused Expressions
It’s not an ancient Chinese secret that our first drafts are usually the statements and phrases we’ve grown up hearing or picked from our surroundings, which crams it with a lot of boring clichés and worn-out expressions. You can amend this while running it through an e-reader, or with a simple word search per chapter. Some cliché examples you might want to get rid of are “most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen” or “plenty of fish in the sea” or “ageing like fine wine” or “busy as a bee” or “if the shoe fits” or “lilac skies”, we could go on and on really, but you get the point.
14. Stick To A Schedule
Seriously, just do this. We know it’s a piece of overworked advice but say whatever, it still works like a charm. Fix a time, and regularly sit with your manuscript and your editing handbook and all your gadgets, get through a significant number of pages and repeat this each day. Believe us when we say this, there’s no such thing as enough edits and there’s always some sort of scope left for improvement.
15. Spot And Remove Info-Dump
Overemphasis on a minuscule of detail that is not very relevant to the main plot can make the readers feel disinterested and even drop the book. Even though every scene requires a different stroke, we recommend you make sure that you’re not stuck enhancing an already stretched out scene. Editing does not mean making better, it also means cutting the clutter where deems necessary.
16. Even Out Your Literary Voice
Even though the writers may not particularly realise this, every author has his/her unique tone and diction. We prefer some words over another, some sentence structures over another and end up reusing it even when it bolts past the limit. Sometimes, even our basic personality trait also stands out evidently in our intrinsic tone, like using too many sentences with a hint of arrogance, sharpness or sarcasm underlining it. You can replace these with more informative sentences that fit the progression and theme of your book.
17. Use Grammar-checking Software
Managing everything on your own can be quite a task, but good for us, various free grammar checking software’s are available and make the job 3 times easier. Even though there are many viable options, our most preferred and conveniently used application is Grammarly, safe to call it a boon for all proofreaders out there.
18. Do Not Illustrate the Obvious
This goes for adding factual details that are already known to the world and only add to the bulk of phrases instead of entrenching a substantial value. This point also works as a continuation to the good-bad adverb difference. For example: if you’ve mentioned something about forest fire, do not give a detailed encounter of it. “I stood there watching the flames lick the edges of the woods, the trees crippling to ash and all its pigment falling prey to the burning wave.” Instead of this, give an account of what is made the character feel, “I stood there clad in sweat from head to toe and witnessed the flames as they embraced every last ounce of verdure left there, a sort of fever climbed it’s way up my body. That day, while everything out was set ablaze, something inside me withered too.” Which one made more sense to you?
19. Amplify the Setting
While you’re busy paying too much attention to your characters, their tropes and arcs, you might end up overlooking the placement of those characters in the time and background of their belonging. Background descriptions are primitive and necessary to fit the suitability and alignment of a scene with the character. For example, this background description from the book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong goes like, “In that street, beside the lifeless person who was somehow more animated in stillness than the living, the perpetual stench of sewage and runoff that lined the gutters, my vision blurred, the colours pooled under my lids.” and stands as a great example of applying your setting.
20. Find What’s Wrong
Even after you think you’ve practically perfected the book to your greatest capacity, the chances are there’s still something wrong somewhere. There’s always something wrong, which is also to say there’s always something that can be bettered if you look hard enough. While you’re copy editing, look with finding inputs, like inconsistency in progression, the details ascribed in the climax of the story, the transition and character arc of the hero, the context and references and every other detail. Read word by word, sentence by sentence, underline it and look for alternatives until you’re satisfied to the brim.
After a lot of haywire and a half measured pieces of advice writers hear from everyone, getting started with the process of self-editing your book becomes a far fetched fantasy. But do not let this ambiguity stop you from birthing a masterpiece and putting it out in the world. These 20 carefully crafted pointers can help you take your editing game a notch higher. Wouldn’t you want that? Michael Lee once said, “The first draft reveals the art; the final reveals the artist. ” and here we are, urging you to reveal yourself, your best, meticulous and most polished version.
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