How To Start Editing My Book: Beginner’s Guide

Congratulations! You’ve finished your novel and have typed those long-desired words “The End”. Time to kick back, relax, and celebrate!

But what comes after the celebration has wound down and you’re ready for the next step?

It’s time to begin the next phase of the writing process: Editing.

Prior To Editing:

As a writer with years of writing under her belt, I’m no stranger to editing my own work. From news articles to blog posts to novels I’ve written and self-edited them all.

There’s one very important thing I always do before I begin editing my book.

Leave. It. Alone.

Yes! You read that correctly. You should never go immediately from finishing your book to editing. You’re tired, you’ve probably been staring at your computer screen all day already, and you’re too emotionally close to whatever just happened at the end of your book. Not to mention that there is a sense of accomplishment that you want to revel in, but maybe also some sadness that it’s now over. All of that is normal, but it does affect your ability to edit objectively.

The best thing you can do for your draft is to give yourself some time away from it. Process all of those feelings, take time to rest and recover, and then when you’re ready, start mentally preparing yourself for the second half of the writing process. Editing is a different mindset from writing entirely, so it helps to approach it with both fresh eyes and an open mind.

After you’ve given yourself time to let your mind refresh and your draft age, it’s time to pick it back up and begin editing.

How To Start Editing My Book:

If you’ve never tried self-editing before, you might be at a loss for where to begin.

Don’t let the thought of starting keep you from doing. The process of self-editing can be done in rounds and there are all sorts of things you can look for that can make your writing stronger.

Here are 6 tips to give you an idea of where to start.

#1 Read your draft aloud:

One of the best ways to begin your editing journey is by reading the section you’re editing aloud. You can do this by reading it out to yourself, enlisting the help of a friend or family member, or by using a virtual dictation tool such as Natural Reader.

Reading what you wrote out loud or listening to it serves two purposes: 1) You get to hear any mistakes you might have made and 2) You get to hear how sentences flow together. This is useful for dialogue or for when you aren’t sure if the tone of your work stays consistent. It will also help you see if your character’s voice stays the same, if the atmosphere changes unintentionally, and if your pacing is where it needs to be.

#2 Check your spelling and grammar:

Checking for spelling and grammar errors when self-editing is a must. A large part of the editing process, it’s crucial that you find these mistakes and fix them. Relying on your copy editor to do all the work for you can backfire, particularly because they could choose not to work with you if you’ve put zero effort into cleaning up your own work prior to seeking them out.

You don’t have to be a grammar genius to self-edit. Start by picking up a dictionary and double-checking any words you’re unsure of, using the thesaurus to change any that you feel are weak or repetitive, or by using a grammar guide like those written by Grammar Girl or The Chicago Manual of Style.

You can also use a service such as Grammarly, a free browser tool that will help correct spelling and grammar mistakes, make sure your writing is concise, and that you’re using the best possible phrasing. Even better, this add-on works across the board and can even help you write better emails. Together these tools will help you clean up your manuscript and rid it of careless errors.

#3 Seek out repetition:

One of my personal pet peeves as a book editor, repetition is another common mistake writers tend to make in their manuscripts. It usually happens when we’re tired or trying to drive home a point about a certain detail. It occurs when we state something in a sentence but then go on to say the exact same thing only in a different way in the next line.

 
Here are some examples:

1. He didn’t want to think about anything. Everything was too overwhelming to think about.

2. She loved him, but couldn’t stand the thought of leaving him. She would hate to leave him because she loved him.

3. As a child she loved playing tag with her friends. They would play tag every night.

 
See what I mean? This is a problem because it’s annoying to read, but it also slows down your overall pacing. It’s because your mind processes that something is being said twice and that thought keeps you from continuing to smoothly read.

You can easily fix this by removing the words or phrases that are repetitive (highlighted in my examples in red) and either replace them with other words or remove the entire second sentence in favor of more related but not repetitive details.

#4 Search for trouble words:

The next step is to go back through separately and search for trouble words. These are the words we tend to mix-up, spell wrong, and misuse. Naturally, since English is a difficult language, there are a bunch. Here is a list of the most common:

  • Their/They’re/There
  • Then/Than
  • Who/Whom
  • Who’s/Whose
  • Your/You’re
  • Can/May
  • Further/Farther
  • Good/Well
  • Affect/Effect
  • i.e/e.g.
  • Into/In To
  • It’s/Its
  • Altogether/ All Together
  • Lay/Lie
  • That/Who
  • Less/Fewer
  • A lot/ A lot

 

Check for these in your writing and make sure you’re not getting them mixed up. I tend to confuse who’s and whose the most! To help you further with this issue, check out Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Her first chapter is devoted to trouble words.

#5 Remove crutch words:

Crutch words are the filler words we use to take the place of something better. They’re the words we use when we aren’t sure what to say, the ones that fill the awkward gaps in our dialogue, and the ones we tend to overuse the most.

Examples of this would be words like: uh, always, very, like, nearly, almost, realize, hmm, etc.

By eliminating these extra words, we make our sentences more concise and powerful. Crutch words are harmful because they fluff our word count and slow down the pacing of our writing. Plus, no one wants to read a character who says the word “like” as much as some of the people we know in real life.

#6 Use the process of elimination:

The best way to self-edit is to look for one problem at a time. Searching for all of the above at once almost guarantees that you’ll miss an error along the way. Essentially negating the purpose of editing in general.

Yes, this way does stretch out the process overall, but it requires less time individually. You simply scan for one word or one type of error and since your mind doesn’t have to switch back and forth between spotting all sorts of problems, it goes faster than if you tried to take note of everything at once.

You can also use this method for editing non-grammar related things. Scan your novel for themes, symbolism, characters, consistency, pacing, etc. It’s more effective because you’ll be looking at the big picture rather than trying to sort out every element together.

Self-editing is a process. It takes time and patience, just like writing. But much like taking the time to choose that precise word that fits your exact meaning or rewriting a sentence over and over to perfect it, the act of self-editing will only make your novel stronger and more enjoyable to your readers. And, bonus, your editor will thank you!

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Alina (1)

Alina Wells is an author, blogger, and development editor based in the Midwest. When she's not helping writers, writing her debut novel, or building her fantasy author empire, she's reading under trees, cooking yummy things, spending time with her husband, or catering to her miniature pinscher overlord. She loves reading fantasy, young adult, and romance and has never met a pumpkin-spice product she didn't like.

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