12 January 2014

Practical Editing Tips For Writers

I am taking a break from editing my current novel to think about the process. I have tried most things, from handing over the manuscript to a professional editor to doing it all myself.  Self-editing can spark new ideas, develop your characters and improve your writing style. There is also professional pride in making sure your work is as good as it can be before anyone else reads it.  Here are a few ideas that work for me, which you may like to consider:

Take a break

Just as I am doing now, it can really help to stand back from your work for a few days.  This doesn’t mean stopping writing. Just like playing an instrument, you need to practice every day, so write or re-write your cover blurb.  Write a blog post. Start the outline of your next book. When you return to your manuscript you may be just a little bit more objective.

Print it out

I hardly ever print out my work, so it is a surprise the first time I see it as a paper book. This is a big mistake, of course. Print out a chapter at a time and go through it with a red pen, looking for unconvincing dialogue, repetition, clichés and all the other things you need to sort out.  I also have a CreateSpace Word template that formats the manuscript for proofing before printing as a paperback.

Read it aloud

I would be useless at making an audiobook as I don’t like reading aloud. It is a great way to get a feel for the rhythm and structure of your writing, though.  Try reading some of your dialogue aloud and see how it sounds.

Find a ‘beta reader'

I have seen advice that you should never ask your partner to read your unedited work. I suppose it depends on a lot of factors, such as the spirit they approach it in, how much time they have and even the relationship you have with them. My wife will patiently read and re-read draft chapters, pointing out things I need to look at. We have a rule that I never argue or get defensive about it, as I have to accept if something looks wrong to her, it probably will to others.

Experiment with writing tools

The standard spelling and grammar checker in Word will let you down. Take a look at some of the add-ons that have a little more intelligence. One of my current favourites is ‘Pro Writing Aid’ see http://prowritingaid.com/en/Analysis/Editor  which can challenge even the most confident writer!

I will leave the final word to one of my favourite writers: 

“To write is human, to edit is divine.” ― Stephen King, OnWriting 

What are your top editing tips?  Please feel free to share.    


  1. Useful info, thanks for sharing.

  2. Edit other people's work as a critique partner. Seeing others make the same mistakes as you do and explaining to them what they are doing wrong makes a major difference in your own work.

    Also, use the read-aloud function on your computer and listen to it. Copyediting errors jump out at you when you are listening, and listening keeps your focus. I always set my computer voice a bit faster than normal which really makes me focus. (All computers come loaded with read-aloud. )

    Having an editor too early in the editorial process is a waste of time because you learn nothing if you let others make the corrections. Having a good writing instructor who critiques is a much better idea if you can't figure out errors, otherwise.

    1. Good suggestions Marilynn - I just tried 'Narrator' in Windows 8 and it was hopeless, then I Googled how to get a Word document read out and found this, which works perfectly:

      In Word 2010 go to the Quick Access Toolbar (Which is at the top of the screen, just above the HOME, FILE, INSERT etc. menus). The Quick Access Toolbar has icons such as SAVE, UNDO, REDO, and has a down arrow after the icons. Click on the down arrow, Click on MORE COMMANDS. In there you might see POPULAR COMMANDS selected, but click the down arrow next to that and select ALL COMMANDS. Go down to the command called SPEAK and click ADD, then OK. Now the SPEAK icon is in your Quick Access Toolbar at the top of your screen. Highlight the text you want to be read in Word then click on the SPEAK icon, and voila!

    2. I use a Mac which has the read-aloud function already installed. You can usually find the command, read aloud in the editing menu. Some apps need the material highlighted, though.

  3. Definitely bookmarking this - thanks Tony! I used a variety of your suggestions for my first book, and now that I'm working on my second, I'm looking for ways to improve. Just might have found some ideas to try here :)

  4. Fascinating! I just discovered the 'Speak' command...never even knew about it! Sounds strange, but could be really useful!


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