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10 Quick Editing Tips For Perfecting Your Novel

Congrats! You've finished your novel and given it some time to breathe. You're ready to embark on the second part of the writing journey- self-editing. This brings about a whole new set of challenges. For those of you who just completed your first novel, the question becomes: How does one self-edit? What sort of mistakes should you be looking for within your work? For writers who have been through this phase of the process before, your question might be: How can I improve my writing and elevate the quality of my overall work?

The solution to both is simple. Editing is the key to both polishing and perfecting one's work. Whether you're brand new or a seasoned professional, you can always improve your skill-set and your understanding of the writing craft.

Self-editing is the art of reviewing your own writing and picking out the weak spots. This is a self-diagnostic attempt to learn from your own mistakes before anyone else sees them. It's beneficial because it allows you to grow from your mistakes and polish your work before you publish. Think of it as the check-point before you find an actual editor or gather a team of beta readers. It's another way to guarantee quality control for your novel.

Here are 10 Quick Tips To Get You Started:

Give Your Manuscript Time to Breathe

Giving your manuscript time to rest in between completion and self-editing is smart. The amount of time you let it rest is up to you and often depends on your publication timeline. It can be two weeks, two months, or longer. Fighting the urge to immediately dive into edits serves one very important purpose: it solves the issue of book blindness. This is a real phenomena. Essentially you've spent so much time with your own writing that you become immune to your own mistakes. Taking a step back and allowing some separation gives your mind time to forget some of the finer details so that when you do pick it up again, it's almost like reading it for the first time. It's the closest you'll ever get to a genuine reader experience and that can help you see things more clearly in the long run.

Read It To Yourself Or With A Buddy

Have you ever noticed how your writing tends to sound different when you read it aloud versus in your head? If you've ever tried it, you've unwittingly stumbled into the next self-editing technique. Reading out loud to yourself when you're editing is a good way to catch things like strange-sounding phrases, choppiness, if you use the wrong word or miss a word, etc. It is also useful for dialogue. The best way to see if a conversation you wrote flows is to have someone else verbalize the lines with you, as if you're actors reading over a script. This will help you tell for sure whether your words are realistic and whether or not anything needs to be changed. Don't have a helper? No problem! An alternative option is to use the speech function on your computer. Typically it allows you to select the tone and reading rate of your choice, which can then be applied to anything written in your Word document. It'll read your writing back to you, which is pretty cool. If all else fails, simply read it aloud to yourself and you'll pick up a lot that you otherwise would have missed.

Check Words With Multiple Meanings/Spellings

English is complicated language. Even for native speakers, we still manage to get things wrong. On average, when we self-edit we're only able to pick up about 75% of our own grammar mistakes, which is why hiring an editor is so important in the long run. We all know the types of words we tend to get confused. These are the words that sound the same but are spelled five different ways. The kind that always leave you scratching your head and questioning whether you got them right.

Here is a list of common problem words:

  • a lot/alot

  • weather/whether

  • affect/effect

  • can/may

  • further/farther

  • good/well

  • i.e./e.g.

  • into/in to

  • it’s/its

  • lay/lie

  • less/fewer

  • that/who

  • their/they’re/there

  • then/than

  • who/whom

  • your/you’re

The best way to eliminate these errors is to print out your manuscript and highlight any of the following you find in your draft. Once you're finished highlighting, go back through and make sure that you've used the right one. If you're in doubt about how to use any of these words or which might be appropriate for the situation, don't be afraid to Google it or look it up in one of these editing books.

Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Written with the wit, warmth, and accessibility that the podcasts are known for, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing covers the grammar rules and word-choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers. From "between vs. among" and "although vs. while" to comma splices and misplaced modifiers, Mignon offers memory tricks and clear explanations that will help readers recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules. Chock-full of tips on style, business writing, and effective e-mailing, Grammar Girl's print debut deserves a spot on every communicator's desk.

Read more here!

The Novel Editing Workbook: 105 Tricks & Tips for Revising Your Fiction Manuscript

Whether you’re planning to traditionally publish or go the indie publishing route, self-editing is essential before any next steps. But don’t just do the job most of the way. “Most of the way” won’t sell your book.Writing a novel is an intimidating idea, but you know what? You did it. How amazing is that? Now finish the job. The Novel Editing Workbook is your resource to make it happen.

Read more here!

Eliminate Your Crutch Words

Along the same lines as the prior tip, crutch words and phrases are those that we tend to overuse when we write. These are the fluff and filler words that worm their way into our writing when we're tired, unsure of what we want to say, or when we aren't paying close attention. Words such as "always", "right", "okay", "that", "just", "maybe", "uh", "very", "because", "if", etc. It's important to do a separate run-through of your draft to find and eliminate these extra words. They up your word count and cheapen your writing. Plus they make your editing bill more expensive when you do hire an editor. To learn more about crutch words, consult this guide from Hubspot: So, Um, You Really Need to Stop Using These Crutch Words.

Scan For Awkward Spacing

Another thing to scan for is awkward spacing, gaps, or incorrect formatting within your manuscript. This type of mistake tends to happen when we start a train of thought and realize we need to do more research before finishing it, when we intentionally want to create a division between chapters or titles, and when we accidentally get trigger-happy with our space bar. Utilizing the find-and-replace tool in your Word document is a quick and effective way to fix this mistake. To use it, type two spaces in “find” and one space in “replace” and hit enter. This will allow you go go through your work and fix this promptly. If you prefer a less "tech-y" approach, simply go through by hand and manually delete the extra space as needed.

Highlight Uncertain Punctuation

We all do it. We overuse commas and put semicolons where they don't belong. We misuse ellipses and think that we can get away with extra apostrophes. We think we're improving our writing and being more "creative" by doing so, especially when trying to create dialects in dialogue. The truth is that that is a misconception. Think of punctuation as a recipe. When you add too much salt to a batch of cookies, you end up with an inedible dessert. It's the same with writing. Using too much or too little punctuation not only harms the quality of our work, but hurts your chances of being published in the process.The best way to avoid having this become an issue is by going through and circling any punctuation in your manuscript that you're unsure of. If you have even the slightest doubt that you may have used it wrong, it qualifies. Once you identify them all, spend some time looking up how to use them properly. Then correct the ones you did use incorrectly. Taking the time to learn things now will save you (and your editor) time during future projects, thus elevating your writing overall.

Run Spell Check or Use Grammarly

When we write we aren't necessarily focused on whether or not we are spelling things correctly. That's okay. What's not okay is to leave those easily fixable errors once the writing is over and expect your editor to smooth them out for you. Unfortunately being blinded by the page after a while is a reality. The more you stare at a Word or Scrivener document, the harder it becomes to read. This is especially true if you've read the same paragraph about five hundred times. Thankfully, we aren't expected to become champion spellers (though we should strive to become one!). That's where the wonderful world of spell check comes in. Whether you use traditional spell check or a browser program like Grammarly, using them guarantees you won't be letting your editor's down anytime soon.

Grab A Copy Of The Chicago Manual of Style

Grab your copy here!

If you've never been published before, you're going to want to familiarize yourself with this one. This is the ultimate style guide when it comes to writing and is known as the publisher's bible. It's not uncommon for editors to cite this in their notes and corrections, so if this is the first time you're hearing about it, it would be smart to grab a copy and look it over. This will also help you understand why an editor has made a certain change or suggestion to your manuscript if you've already reached that stage. This is definitely the way to go if you're considering becoming an editor yourself, or are looking to improve the editing skills you already have.

Play By The Formatting Rules

These days if you're looking to get published traditionally, you HAVE to follow the formatting rules. Even if you are self-publishing, you'll still find yourself restricted in how you can format your novel. These specifications are plainly stated by publishers on their submissions page or by Kindle Direct Publishing (for those who choose to self-publish). Rules vary depending on who the publisher is, but one thing is absolutely certain: If you don't follow the rules, your book won't sell. For this reason it is vital to read and reread these parameters before you send in your work or before you choose to hit that publish button. Formatting in general is important because it increases readability. It allows beta readers to read as if it's already an established book, and editors to focus on what they're actually there to accomplish rather than wasting time fixing your format.

Here's what to look for:

  • Send your manuscript as a Word document unless stated otherwise (.doc or .docx).

  • Use double-line spacing.

  • Use a single space after periods.

  • Only use 12 pt., black, Times New Roman font.

  • Using tab to indent your paragraphs may not be necessary. Check with your publisher as it varies by genre.

  • The first paragraph of any chapter, after a subheader, or following a bulleted or numbered list shouldn’t be indented.

  • Use page breaks between chapters.

Beware Over-Editing

While it's a good idea to self-edit, it's important not to over-edit. Knowing the difference is a little like walking a tightrope but it's good to keep in mind that the pursuit of perfection is overrated. No one is perfect and that includes writers. That's why we hire whole teams of people to help us clean, correct, polish, and sell our work. Don't make the mistake of thinking you'll be able to catch all of your mistakes. It's impossible and believing you can perfect your writing by yourself is a little like believing in Santa Claus as an adult- too good to be true. While you absolutely should self-edit, you should also invest in an editor to catch the rest of your mistakes, both known and unknown. If you want to give your work its best chance at success, an extra set of eyes never hurts.

The great news is that if you're reading this thinking, "Oh, I should really look into hiring an editor" you don't need to spend hours looking further! Writing It Wells offers both Developmental Editing (for those who need help with their novel's consistency, structure, and development) and Copy Editing (for those pesky grammar and spelling mistakes). Simply send in an inquiry to and see how we can best help you and your project.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting Writing It Wells — thank you! We only recommend what we use personally with integrity and authenticity being of the upmost importance. Thanks for visiting!

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