Hi, SE Readers. Joan here today. I’ve been in the editing mode of late. It never ceases to amaze me how many mistakes I find. I edit, then I send pages to my critique partners thinking I’ve got a pretty clean copy. They find other things I’ve missed. So, I edit some more.
Whether you are traditionally published or an Indie author, self-editing is an absolute must. There is no substitute for hiring a professional editor, but there are a few tips writers can do before submitting that manuscript to an editor, publisher, or even beta readers.
Look for “crutch” words
Every author tends to rely on what I call crutch words. These are different for every writer, but reading through your finished manuscript will enable you to become familiar with your own. As you review, look for repeated words or phrases. Some of my crutch words are well, perhaps, and so.
There is nothing wrong with any of these words, but I have a habit of starting sentences with well and so. “Well, I planned to go to town,” or “So, what’s the next step?” In both cases, I can eliminate the first word without changing the meaning of the sentence. If you find you overuse a word, but leaving it in some places is a must, then refer to a thesaurus for synonyms.
Look for “red flag” words or phrases
We’re all familiar with passive vs. active voice. Using active voice is always best. Words such as here, there, of, was, were, will be, to be, thought, felt, heard, saw, smelled are often a key to the use of passive voice.
I’m not saying it’s always bad to use these words, but when you see one of them think of ways you can rephrase. Rearranging a sentence often results in changing from passive to active.
Look for “-ly” words
I’m not going to say never use an adverb, but it’s always better to use an active verb. Consider the following sentence. He walked slowly down the sidewalk. Rewrite it as this: He sauntered down the sidewalk.
Look for “dead” and overused words
Words such as that, just, and very, if overused, are known as dead words. Most of the time you can eliminate them and not change the meaning of your sentence. As an example, “This is the most fun that I’ve had in a long time.” Instead say, “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”
I admit to having a hard time removing the word just. But when I say, “He just left,” what am I saying? Five, ten, fifteen minutes? A better way might be, “He left about fifteen minutes ago.”
Of note, we often use the word just when speaking. Using it in dialogue is okay, but still use it sparingly.
Watch for repeated phrases
Take this sentence: Jason furrowed his brow. There’s nothing wrong with the writing. It shows, rather than tells, the reader Jason is skeptical about something or someone. However, don’t over use the phrase. Too many times with too many characters can turn the reader off.
As you can see, self-editing isn’t hard. The more you write, it becomes easier to spot dead words or crutch words. This isn’t a comprehensive list of editing tips, but taking these few simple steps will make your manuscript much cleaner before you send it to an editor.