Rewriting the Small Stuff


As we’ve discussed over the past few weeks, rewriting a novel is a multi-step process. We now appreciate that revision is more than mere copy editing, but copy edits are also an important part of the process.

Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few areas to address as you move into the copy editing (also called line editing) phase of your rewrite.

Self-editing Tricks

By the time we begin copy edits, our eyes have become so familiar with the words we’ve written that it’s common to actually replace or omit words. I can silently read my work dozens of times and never spot a missing or misspelled word. I actually had one of these bloopers on my first page and left it that way for weeks before I caught it.

An important way to avoid this problem is to get in the habit of reading your work out loud. Even better, read aloud to someone else who follows along on a copy of the work. Whenever I am editing, I see some mistakes on the screen. I catch many more when I print and read the copy. But I catch the most errors when I print and read out loud to fellow writers.

These other ears can alert you if you substitute or change the order of words as you read aloud. “The page reads xxx but you said zzz” can improve a sentence that looked OK on the screen but is much better with different wording. Even experienced novelists can make their copy better by aloud reading—just try not to choose your mom or your spouse to partner with. They’re too close and will either love it or hate it with not enough input on how to improve.

Read your work out loud!

Those Homophones!

A second important part of self-editing is to learn your homophones—words which sound alike but are spelled differently. Your Spellcheck function will not help you here—it only recognizes correctly spelled words, not their meaning. If you wanna be a writer, it’s a good thing to know the basics of good grammar.

Homophones such as break/brake, there/their/they’re, faint/feint or pane/pain can embarrass a writer. In fact, my local newspaper prints homophone errors nearly every issue. It’s obvious the writer has relied on Spell Check. If you want to publish your work, learning the various homophones and their definitions is vital.

Do you know the difference between yoke and yolk? How about duel and dual? If you didn’t pay attention in school, it behooves you to find a guide (I always recommend beginning with the classic Strunk & White Elements of Style) and study it. However, when you are drafting, write without stopping to look up right spellings. Save the revisions for this self-editing stage.

Laugh, Rewrite, Repeat

Another area in self-editing that may need correcting are those pesky participial phrase agreements. Say what? According to The Elements of Style, “A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.”

An example might be, “Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap.” The writer meant that the house is dilapidated, but the sentence’s construction gives the narrator that distinction.

Bun Bun says, “Ditch those participial phrases!”

Participles and gerund constructions in general weaken the writing. Try to “go straight at it!” as one of my mentors used to say. Instead of, “He was playing,” simply write “He played.”  These little copy edits will tighten and lend clarity to writing. And after you’ve self-edited until you can do no more, consider hiring a professional to give your manuscript the once-over from a fresh set of eyes.

For all my writer friends: Use this link to get a free pdf of Self-edits you can actually use:

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.

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