When we are in a writing frenzy, we tend to pound away at the keyboard and not really notice some of the simple mistakes we make. Unless you are a professional typist, you know what I’m talking about. I find that sometimes I transpose letters or I use the wrong form of a word. Sometimes I even omit a word or two. My mind is racing so fast, trying to get my idea down, that I’m sure my fingers are keeping perfect timing on the keyboard, but they’re obviously not. It’s kind of like when you watch Dancing with the Stars and say “Hmm, I can dance like that”. Then you try and you find out you have two left feet. Well, don’t worry. I most certainly am not going to give you tips on dancing. However, I am going to share a few quick tips on what I do to help me find those pesky errors before sending any of my manuscripts off for beta reads.
- Set up Word. Do this once and it will be set up for every single time you write. What? you may ask, thinking this is obvious and a no brainer. Or you may be thinking you’re not tech savvy enough. No worries. This is easy. On Word go to the FILES tab at the top and click on it. Click OPTIONS. When the window pops open, click PROOFING. Go down to where it says “When correcting spelling and grammar in word” and click on the SETTINGS button. Now, I have “Grammar Only” checked, but if you want it to check your Style as well, you can do that by switching the setting in the drop down menu. For Grammar, I have all of the boxes checked. It can be a pain in the rear sometimes when Word underlines certain things like “Hidden Verbs”, but it gives me an opportunity to see if I can reword that particular sentence.
- Read out loud to someone. Don’t freak out! I know it can be hard to let other people in on your work. I get it. That being said, I know how many errors I have caught by simply reading aloud to someone. I have caught missing words, oddly worded sentences, misused words that Word missed, incomplete words, and an occasional typo.
- Give it a rest. Yes. Give it a rest. Set aside your manuscript or whatever you are writing and let it breathe. You have been looking at your writing for so long, your brain automatically knows what you meant to say and where. This means your brain automatically fills in the gaps even if there’s something missing or wrong. Let your work rest for a week or two or even three if you have the time. When you come back to it, you will be looking at it with fresh eyes. In the meantime, you can write something else or read or try to figure out how to conquer the world with your novel.
- Read each line slowly and deliberately. This is pretty much self explanatory. When you read slowly and deliberately you focus on the content and can see where things are right or wrong.
- Edit and Revise. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Okay, so this step seems like five in one, but it’s necessary. When you edit, you are not only editing for grammar, you are also editing for content and plot. You need to make sure everything flows. If there is an inconsistency, you can be sure a reader will find it. Are your spellings consistent? I have a character named Cyndi in one book and I had her name spelled Cyndi and Cindy. That was not good. Look at the time line on your novel. Does it work? This is an issue with a novel I put out. I felt pressured to put it out and I did so without doing all the editing and revising I could. Guess what? Readers noticed. The book has 4.3 out of 5 stars, but I will return to it one day and make it better. Are you repetitive? Did you use the same word in your paragraph more than twice? I’m not talking about words like “the” and “I”. I’m talking about adjectives, names, and verbs. Adjectives: Describing something the same way twice in a paragraph can be considered lazy. Names: Using someone’s name twice is unnecessary if you are only speaking about him/her and have not inserted another name/person in the paragraph. Verbs: Today, with so many online resources, it is way too easy to find a synonym for your verbs. Don’t overuse verbs. They can be our friends and strengthen our story, or they can be our enemy and tear it apart. If you find a good synonym for a verb, look for examples of its use before you insert it. It is a common mistake for people to pick up a synonym and use it without seeing if it truly works.
Once you have done all of this, and feel comfortable that you have done all you can do, let your beta readers have a go at it. They are your outside eyes and can spot things you will still have missed. Don’t let that be the last of it. Fix anything that needs to be fixed and do another read through for any missed mistakes.
If you decide to hire an editor, do your research. There are plenty of low cost options for Indies, but remember, you get what you paid for. Hiring an editor doesn’t mean you shouldn’t self edit. On the contrary, self edit before submitting. This may help to lower the cost significantly.
I hope this helps if you are having trouble with self editing. Feel free to comment below whether you liked my tips or not. Let me know what tips you have for self editing.