The easiest part of writing a novel is the actual writing. Getting all those words and ideas that are taking up space in your head down onto the blank page. Simple. What’s difficult is what comes after that: the editing. Keeping consistency with grammar and style, deciding what moves the plot along, killing your darlings. But it needs to be done and although it’s true that every writer ought to run their novel through a professional editor before submission, you also need to edit it yourself too!
Here are my top five tips on how best to edit your own work:
- Don’t edit straight away!
I’ve always been told that putting distance between yourself and your writing is the more important part of the editing process. A week was recommended, but I like to finish a draft of another novel before heading back to edit the first. Why? Because then my head has been so completely and utterly consumed by other ideas from drafting another novel, that reading my earlier project is as though I’ve picked up someone else’s book. It makes being impartial a little easier.
- Read aloud!
When reading something to yourself your brain automatically sees what should be there instead of what is there. Reading aloud, however, helps your brain to find mistakes rather than covering them up. You’ll start to notice sentences that don’t flow properly or misspelt words. If you have difficulty reading a passage, you know it’s because it needs work. Recently someone also recommended putting work through Google Translate.
- Use editing software!
Software such as Grammerly and ProWritingAid are brilliant tools when editing. Spelling and grammar checkers are wonderful at finding basic mistakes, but specialist tools help you find unnecessary words, run-on sentences and other mistakes that your basic tools won’t be able to pick up on. Before I started using ProWritingAid, I was using the word ‘that’ so often it actually took a huge chunk of my word count. Now I’m aware of my problem though, editing has become a lot easier, simply because I’ve stopped using unnecessary words. Be careful though – sometimes what the software thinks is correct may not work with what you’re writing.
- Don’t read off a screen!
Have you ever printed out your final manuscript, flicked through it just as you’re about to post it off to someone, and then realise there’s a double word or a spelling mistake? Yes? Well you’re in good company! Always edit on paper and not on screen. Seeing your manuscript on paper, physically being able to shuffle pages around or scribble all over them with a red pen, makes all the difference. If you do more than one printed edit (which I always recommend), then it may also be a good idea to change font between each printed draft so it looks different from the previous edit.
- Be ruthless!
There’s a reason the most popular piece of editing advice is ‘kill your darlings’. When editing, the key is to be ruthless. Nothing should be in your novel unless it serves to further the narrative: weak characters who don’t really need to be there, extraneous plot lines, metaphors, similes… Cut anything that doesn’t fulfil a purpose. It’s the hardest part of editing but it’s the difference between a novel that you give up on and a novel that goes onto the bestseller list.