Three Easy Ways to Self-edit

In the last post, we discussed the process of hiring a pro editor to “clean up” your manuscript before you begin the submission process. But what about the manuscript you hand off to that editor?
Writing Tip for Today: Before you hire an editor to help you, try to increase your self-editing skills. The better the shape of your manuscript, the easier it should be for an editor to improve your already self-edited work. Here are 3 easy ways to improve through self-editing:

  • Weed out Passive Language. Good storytelling relies on scenes and scenes are almost always improved with the use of direct sentences that use active, specific verbs. Begin by taking a sample of your manuscript and circling all the forms of the verb to be: is, are, was, were. Take a look at the word next to one of these words. Does it end in “ing?” If so, you can tighten by simply using the past tense of the ing word and eliminating the “was” altogether. EX: He was walking down my street. BETTER: He sauntered down my street. Here I’ve done two things: 1) eliminate the “was” and substitute a specific active verb for the more general “walk.” By giving your reader a precise picture (sauntered is much different from staggered yet both refer to walking), readers in turn can more fully imagine the scene and will be more likely to read more.
  • Get Characters Moving too! Take a look at your scenes. Do many of them take place around a table, bar or other stationary object? Is your character alone on stage for extended periods? The idea here is to get your characters active in time and space–not just as mouthpieces for dialogue alone. And if your character is on stage alone, it’s probable that she’s not saying much but thinking A LOT. Readers won’t appreciate being trapped in the head of most characters for long.Put another character on stage with her and it’s much easier to show interaction, conflict and movement.
  • Storyboard for Pacing. Before you hire that editor, try story boarding or mapping out your story. You’ll be able to see the story as a whole, and quite possibly identify repetitions, plot holes or sagging tension as well as places that go either too fast or too slowly. Even if you think your story is terrific the way it is, you’ll understand it more if you stand back and see it from a forest vantage point instead of in the manuscript where all you can see are the trees. Do your best, but don’t be afraid to call in the pro when you’ve done all you can do. Writing is a craft and it takes time and practice to master the craft. Don’t give up!

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

6 comments on “Three Easy Ways to Self-edit

    • Heather,
      Many ways to do this–I encourage you to pick what format you wish (notecards, or post it notes, etc) and then write one pithy sentence about the story for each scene. EX: George learns his true father’s identity. Ginny flees to Mexico. Then line up all the scenes in chronological order and stand back a bit. You’ll see if the tension is rising and where the climax needs to go, places where you’ve written too many scenes, others where there are holes, etc. You then add or rearrange or delete scene cards and see how the story would change. Try it and let me know how it works for you! Keep Writing, Linda

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