Becoming a good editor of your own work takes time and practice, but it’s worth it. You will learn how to improve the structure and style of your writing, communicate more clearly, and eliminate grammatical errors.Plus, if you can edit your own writing, you will be able to better edit the writing of others.
Isaac Justesen gives the following tips for editing in Freelance Writers
1. Read Your Writing in a New Format
If you typed it, print it out. Alternatively, convert your Word document to PDF format, or change your text to a different font, color, and size. These techniques will help you see your content from an “outsider’s” perspective and give you a more critical eye.
2. Take a Break
Let your writing rest for a few hours or overnight. Putting a literal distance between you and your work also creates an emotional distance. When you return to it, you’re more likely to spot awkward phrases and obvious mistakes.
3. Read it Out Loud
To discover the rhythm of your writing, read it out loud. The best writing sounds smooth, so if you find yourself stammering through poorly worded sentences, you know it needs improving.
4. Remove Uncertain Language
Good communication sounds authoritative, so avoid wishy-washy sentences. If you use phrases like “seems to be” or “could be a reason for,” you sound indecisive and it weakens your message.
5. Avoid Repetitive Phrases
Try not to rely on certain words or phrases to make your point; readers will notice when you repeat yourself. Aim for variety. Use a word frequency counter to find repetitive words and scan a thesaurus to find alternatives.
6. Eliminate Filler Words
Use your word processor’s find functionality to search for “there,” “here,” and “it” to find redundant words and phrases.
7. Remove Weak “To Be” Verbs
Using versions of the verb “to be” can weaken the words that follow. Replace “am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “been,” and “being” with stronger alternatives. For example:
Weak sentence: They were not enjoying the editing process.
Strong sentence: They hated the editing process.
Stronger sentence: The editing process repulsed them.
8. Remove Weak Adjectives
Weak adjectives also spoil your writing. When describing nouns and pronouns, use more powerful adjectives and avoid the words “really” or “very.”
Weak sentence: He was really scared of snakes.
Strong sentence: He was terrified of snakes. (note the use of "to be" verb, passive voice)
Stronger sentence: Snakes terrified him.
9. Use Grammarly to Find Mistakes
The Grammarly proofreading tool looks at spelling and grammar mistakes and checks more than 250 advanced rules to find mistakes such as double negatives, run-on sentences, and dangling modifiers. After you’ve used Grammarly a few times, you’ll start to see common weaknesses in your writing. (Note: Grammarly is not always correct and does not find all problems, but it does help.)
10. Separate Your Editing Tasks
If the thought of editing your own work terrifies you, break down the tasks into a series of manageable steps. In the first read-through, check your ideas flow logically. In the next read-through, look at sentence structure, and so on.
Editing tips from Jerry B. Jenkins:
• Editors can tell within a page or two how much editing would be required to make a manuscript publishable; if it would take a lot of work in every sentence, the labor cost alone would disqualify it.
• An editor can tell immediately whether a writer understands what it means to grab a reader by the throat and not let go.
• Have too many characters been introduced too quickly?
• Does the writer understand point of view?
• Is the setting and tone interesting?
• Do we have a sense of where the story is headed, or is there too much throat clearing? (See below for an explanation.)
• Is the story subtle and evocative, or is it on-the-nose?
Yes, a professional editor can determine all this with a quick read of the first two to three pages. Therefore, what can you do to make your writing better and/or make yourself a better receiver of editing advice?
1. Develop a thick skin or at least to pretend to. It’s not easy. But, we writers need to listen to our editors—even if that means listening to ourselves!
2. Avoid throat-clearing. This is a literary term for a story or chapter that finally begins after a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with it.
3. Choose the normal word over the obtuse. When you’re tempted to show off your vocabulary or a fancy turn of phrase, think reader-first and keep your content king. Don’t intrude. Get out of the way of your message.
4. Omit needless words. A rule that follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer.
5. Avoid subtle redundancies.“She nodded her head in agreement.” Those last four words could be deleted. What else would she nod but her head? And, when she nods, we need not be told she’s in agreement.
“He clapped his hands.” What else would he clap?
“She shrugged her shoulders.” What else?
“He blinked his eyes.” Same question.
“They heard the sound of a train whistle.” The sound of could be deleted.
6. Avoid the words up and down …unless they’re really needed. He rigged [up] the device. She sat [down] on the couch.
7. Usually delete the word that. Use it only for clarity.
8. Give the reader credit.Once you’ve established something, you don’t need to repeat it.
Example: “They walked through the open door and sat down across from each other in chairs.”
If they walked in and sat, we can assume the door was open, the direction was down, and—unless told otherwise—there were chairs. So you can write: “They walked in and sat across from each other.”
Avoid quotation marks around words used in another context, as if the reader wouldn’t “get it” otherwise. (Notice how subtly insulting that is.)
9. Avoid telling what’s not happening.
“He didn’t respond.”
“She didn’t say anything.”
“The crowded room never got quiet.”
If you don’t say these things happened, we’ll assume they didn’t.
10. Avoid being an adjectival maniac. Good writing is a thing of strong nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Use them sparingly.
Novelist and editor Sol Stein says one plus one equals one-half (1+1=1/2), meaning the power of your words is diminished by not picking just the better one. “He proved a scrappy, active fighter,” is more powerful if you settle on the stronger of those two adjectives. Less is more. Which would you choose?
11. Avoid hedging verbs, like smiled slightly, almost laughed, frowned a bit, etc.
12. Avoid the term literally—when you mean figuratively.
“I literally died when I heard that.” R.I.P.
“My eyes literally fell out of my head.” There’s a story I’d like to read.
“I was literally climbing the walls.” You have a future in horror films.
13. Avoid too much stage direction. You don’t need to tell every action of every character in each scene, what they’re doing with each hand, etc.
14. Maintain a single Point of View (POV) or perspective (if using third person POV) for every scene.
Failing to do so is one of the most common errors beginning writers make. Amateurs often defend themselves against this criticism by citing classics by famous authors who violated this. Times change. Readers’ tastes change. This is the rule for today, and it’s true of what sells.
15. Avoid clichés and not just words and phrases. There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock; having a character describe herself while looking in a full-length mirror; having future love interests literally bump into each other upon first meeting, etc.
16. Resist the urge to explain (RUE).
Marian was mad. She pounded the table. “George, you’re going to drive me crazy,” she said, angrily.
“You can do it!” George encouraged said.
17. Show, don’t tell.
If Marian pounds the table and chooses those words, we don’t need to be told she’s mad. If George says she can do it, we know he was encouraging.
18. Avoid mannerisms of attribution. People say things; they don’t wheeze, gasp, sigh, laugh, grunt, snort, reply, retort, exclaim, or declare them. John dropped onto the couch. “I’m beat.” Not: John was exhausted. He dropped onto the couch and exclaimed tiredly, “I’m beat.”
“I hate you,” Jill said, narrowing her eyes.
Not: “I hate you,” Jill blurted ferociously.
Sometimes people whisper or shout or mumble, but let your choice of words imply whether they are grumbling, etc. If it’s important that they sigh or laugh, separate the action from the dialogue:
Jim sighed. “I just can’t take any more,” he said. [Usually you can even drop the attribution he said if you have described his action first. We know who’s speaking.]
19. Specifics add the ring of truth. Yes, even to fiction.
20. Avoid similar character names.
In fact, avoid even the same first initials.
21. Avoid mannerisms of punctuation, type styles, and sizes.
“He…was…DEAD!” doesn’t make a character any more dramatically expired than “He was dead.”
Hopefully, the preceding tips will help you be a better editor and a better writer who is edited.