Editing isn’t the most enjoyable process for some, or the easiest, but there are ways to make the process simpler, especially for beginners, so these insights will help make it easier for writers – regardless of their experience – to help themselves when it comes to editing their work.
Hacks, tips, snippets of advice – whatever you want to call them, they provide a starting point for writers, something to work to, and while there is never a right or wrong way to do things, they’re all tried and tested, and they all work in their own way.
So, what’s the best way to try to edit a novel? What are the best tips? In this first part, we’ll start will the basics and work our way up.
1. Finish the Manuscript
There is a valid and important reason for this particular piece of advice, and it’s now an accepted an accepted universal guidance. The reason why we say it’s better to finish the manuscript first is because it makes the entire editing process easier.
There are writers who prefer to edit as they go along. There is nothing wrong with this approach – but by doing it that way, the writer might be at a disadvantage because:-
a) They may miss something critical because they are not actually focused on the entire novel as a whole, but only the last few pages or chapters they’ve written.
b) Mistakes, such as spelling and grammar, are often missed because the writer “can’t see the wood for the trees”. In other words, the writer is so involved in the work that he or she is oblivious to the obvious. This is very true. When we work on something for a long period of time, we become too close to it to be truly objective and we don’t always see the minutiae.
c) The writer isn’t allowing enough time between writing and then editing, for the reason above. Time plays an important role in good editing (see hack No 2.)
d) Editing straight away tends to skew the writer’s objectivity, which means lots of small mistakes and larger flaws will go unnoticed.
For those who want to avoid these pitfalls, it’s best to wait until the entire story is written, i.e. completed, before editing. That way, the entire work can be assessed cohesively, objectively and thoroughly.
2. Leave it Alone
There’s good reasoning behind this.
The longer we leave something once we’ve finished, the better we see things. If you start editing straight after you’ve finished the work, it’s less likely you’ll spot the most blatant errors. That’s because you’ve spent months (or even a year or two) writing it, you’re so close to the work that you know chapters back to front, and so you just won’t be able to see what is obvious. If you spend some time away from the work – weeks, even a month or two – you come back to the work completely refreshed and focused, and that’s because you’ve forgotten about the story completely, which is the whole point.
After a break from it, you would see the work as editor or reader would see it.
3. Print the Manuscript
This might seem like overkill, especially as you can just read direct from your computer and edit, however, without a doubt, the best way to edit is by having a physical print out of what you’ve written, because staring at a screen for hours on end can make the brain and eyes tired, and often you won’t spot the simplest things.
One reason authors do this is because a printed version helps to cast a fresh perspective on the book. It makes it easier to focus. It mimics the way a reader would read a book, either in a Kindle or in actual book form. The story is seen properly and not just words on a computer screen.
Another good reason is that a printout also allows you to make notes as you go, which you can refer to when you start re-writing. Again, this makes the process so much easier.
4. Read Your Work Aloud
Another universally accepted bit of advice. You may feel silly doing it, but this really does work and plenty of authors do it. Reading aloud helps the writer listen to and hear the narrative.
But how does this work?
Reading your words aloud helps you to spot errors that would otherwise go unnoticed. Saying the words, rather than reading them, gives your manuscript a whole new outlook. You can judge just how well your narrative, dialogue and descriptions flow together and whether the story makes sense. It helps you to get a feel for tone and pace, to see if there is any atmosphere or emotion (or lack of).
Reading aloud forces you to hear the story, so you’ll notice if you stumble over the words, or whether sentences are clumsy. You’ll notice whether it reads smoothly and succinctly, or makes no sense at all.
Another useful tool is to use the Text to Speech application in Word. This will read the text for you, and because you are ‘hearing’ it, you will spot any bad sentences or clunky words or nonsensical narrative. The voice is slightly robotic, but it does exactly what you would normally do by reading aloud.
If you’re not sure how to apply this, go to your Start button and type in Speech in the search box. From the menu choose ‘Change text to speech settings’. This will bring up a Speech Settings menu. Choose the Text to Speech tab. Here you can choose the settings. One you’ve chosen your settings, click apply, then click OK.
In your Word document, click on the ‘Customize Quick Access Toolbar’ arrow. (This is usually located on the ribbon above or below the main toolbar, along with the save, undo, repeat and draw table icons).
From this drop down menu, choose ‘More commands’. This will give you the More Commands menu. Look for ‘Choose commands’ drop down bar. Click on ‘All commands’. This will list all the commands that are available to place on your toolbar in Word. It’s in alphabetical order, so scroll down to ‘Speak’. Click on it and then press the Add button to add it to your toolbar, then click OK. It should now appear on your ribbon**
Sometimes it’s not possible to read aloud, so Text to Speech is really useful and a great way to hear the words you’ve written. This leads nicely into Hack No. 5…
5. Make Notes
Sometimes the simple things help more than complicated processes. And none more so than taking notes. The best way to edit is to make preliminary notes during the read through. The urge to go full throttle and do a full on edit might be tempting, but to use a well-worn cliché, it’s best to learn to walk before you can run. Many writers make several passes over the manuscript, and the read through is the ground work on which the rest of the edit will take place.
Notes with the familiar red pen might take the form of spelling and grammar errors, change of sentences, or the order of words or new paragraphs. You might spot a flaw, you might see your tenses are incorrect or you might want to delete certain sentences etc.
The notes you make on your first read through are essential building blocks from turning a raw first draft into something solid and coherent and stronger. It’s not unknown for authors to scrub out sentences, entire scenes or even crap entire chapters, or make even more additions. Making notes is a fundamental part of the process.
In part 2 we’ll look at more editing hacks, all designed to make editing that much easier and. All of them work; it’s just up to the writer if they want to embrace them.
Next week: Editing Hacks – Part 2