Before I get started, let me make this clear – self-editing is not a substitute for an editor! You should always – make that ALWAYS – use a paid editor for at least copy editing. There are plenty out there who are affordable. Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about self-editing.
Self-editing is a must. Just because you hire an editor doesn’t excuse you from self-editing. I know it sucks, but that’s life. Sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes it sucks the will to live from you. You do it anyway. Here are a few tricks I use to make sure I don’t fall into a coma when editing. (I’m assuming you’ve heard the standard advice of print everything out, speak out loud, blah, blah, blah.)
Highlighting overused words. You’ve been told a zillion times to eliminate crutch words. We each have our own crutch words, but, as an example, here are some of mine: even, totally, that, so, just, still, only. Before I print out my manuscript to edit, I highlight (find and replace in Word is a godsend) my crutch words. I also do a word count to see how many times I use each word. While reviewing, I pay special attention to my crutch words. Can I delete it? What about substituting a different word? Trust me, you can delete ‘that’ from your manuscript at least 25% of the time. After my first run through, I’ll do another word count to see how I did. Rinse and repeat.
Think of it as a text. If you’re having a hard time with deleting those pesky crutch words, pretend the dialogue is a text. Make it witty but short and sweet. This probably only works for us ‘older’ writers who text like we talk and have no clue what most of those snappy acronyms mean. (Reading out loud also helps with deleting crutch words, but who hasn’t heard that advice too many times to count?)
Re-read last chapters separately. I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to concentrate for twelve hours straight. Those first chapters of my manuscript are polished and polished and polished, but the final chapters? They’re often neglected. I’m positive I’m not the only writer who has this problem considering how many novels I read, which contain a multitude of errors towards the ending. The easy solution? Separately edit the final chapters (I take the last five) a few (additional) times.
Make a quick outline. I’m a big fan of making sure that not only the flow of the writing works, but ensuring that characters don’t learn information multiple times or too early or too late. Murder mysteries don’t work if the red herrings and clues are given out at the wrong time. My easy solution? An additional outline I make while doing my editing. This is a down and dirty outline with just the bare necessities: who, what, where.
Read your #WIP through all at once. I save this one for my final self-edit. I also turn off all electronics and basically lock myself in the house all day. The dog is not amused, but he hasn’t bitten me yet so there is that. You’ll be able to evaluate the tempo as well as character development and overall story progress.
I try to go through my manuscript at least four times before sending it off to the editor. More would be better, but, at some point, I can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. While the manuscript is at the editor, I don’t look at it. Nope, not I. That’s my time for working on promotions and maybe catching up on sleep as I tend to put in 12 – 16 hour days while editing. Did someone say beer?