There is a lot to be said about self-editing: find the best word, reduce repetition, be sure to show instead of tell, read your manuscript aloud so you can "hear" mistakes, etc. In the years I've been editing, for myself and others, I've also found it's good to find a process that works and stick to it.
Just like we don't all write the same, we don't all edit the same. I'm going to share my process in the hope that it sparks ideas on how to develop your own self-editing process.
Put it Down for a Few Weeks
It's important to step away from a manuscript prior to the editing process. You're too close to it otherwise. It's easy to gloss over errors and inconsistencies you would catch if you were reviewing your work with fresh eyes. My preferred time frame is a month. If it's possible, I put it aside for four weeks and work on something else so the manuscript feels new when I pick it up again.
Read it Aloud
My process is comprised of three separate and intentional reads of the manuscript. The first is where I read it aloud so I can hear how it sounds and pick out inconsistencies and obvious typos. When I find an inconsistency--the character's eyes are suddenly green when they have been blue for five chapters or a disconnect in the timeline--I stop instantly and search for the character's name or some keywords that connect in my brain to tell me there is a continuity issue. I also immediately correct any typographical errors.
Word Choice, Grammar, and Repetition
The next time I read the manuscript I am focused entirely on the words. Is this the best word choice? Can this adverb be replaced with a more powerful verb? Has the word "was" or "walked" or "said" been used too many times? Is this sentence grammatically correct? Is a fragment okay here? Is this showing or telling? What is being said? Is there a better way to say it? Now is also the time to trim back the excess description and unnecessary backstory.
Because punctuation is so important, one round of edits should be dedicated solely to making sure it's right. Is this the right punctuation for this sentence? Is another punctuation mark better? How would changing the punctuation affect the way the reader interprets what is happening? What conclusions will the reader draw about the character based upon how the dialogue is punctuated?
Forget the manuscript exists for a day. Then make one final read through--I prefer to read it aloud--and fine tune it. You're guaranteed to find at least one thing you missed.
Here are some resources on self-editing that will also help:
New York Times bestselling author Jerry Jenkins supplies writers with a 21-part checklist on how to edit a book, which you can download from his website.
I'll end today with a quote by Newbery Honor winner Shannon Hale:
“I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”
Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Little Shepherd, A Christmas Kindness, Macaroni and Cheese for Thanksgiving and the recently released, Amos Faces His Bully. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at http://ccmalandrinos.com and her children’s book blog at https://childrensandteensbookconnection.wordpress.com