12 tips for revising your own manuscript

During the process of writing your novel or nonfiction book, you’ll probably spend a lot of time revising the manuscript. Catching every error in one reading is unlikely, but you can reduce the number of drafts you eventually write simply by following some editing tricks. Here are some common ones used by writers and editors alike.

Before you read
• Set aside the draft – Let a couple of days pass between the writing and the editing. This helps “distance” you from the writing process so that you can look at the piece more objectively.
• Reacquaint yourself with writing craftsmanship – While waiting to edit, read a book about the craft of writing. Doing so will give you some ideas of what to look for when editing as well as some solutions for how to solve the issue.
• Turn off the distractions – Turn off the television, email and music with lyrics then read the manuscript in a place where no one will interrupt you.

Editing strategies
• Switch to paper – People read words on a computer screen slightly differently than they do words on paper. Editing a printout of your manuscript can help you spot errors you might have missed by editing onscreen.
• Read the manuscript aloud – When you have difficulty saying a sentence aloud, others likely will have difficulty reading it. Reading aloud also forces you to go slower, increasing your chances of catching errors.
• Look up from the manuscript – Every page or so, take your eyes off the screen or printout, otherwise you run the risk of glazing over what you’re reading.
• Use spell and grammar check – While you never should rely solely on spell check to proofread your piece, don’t disregard the tool either. It can find typos that will have you slapping your head wondering how they got past you.

What to look for
• Watch for words used too many times – Any time a word is repeated within a sentence and in consecutive sentences, you probably need to rework the passage.
• Seek and destroy adverbs – Words ending in “ly” usually can be dumped. Use a stronger verb to get your idea across.
• Use active voice – While not every sentence needs to be in active voice, passive voice generally is overused in early drafts.
• Ask “What is ‘it’?” – Do you know what “it” refers to (its antecedent) in a sentence? Often writers unconsciously use “it” to quick write a sentence so they can keep up with their own thoughts of what the next sentences should say.
• Identify point of view shifts – This mainly applies to fiction. Like passive voice, jarring point of view shifts are common in early drafts. Fix them early in the process to save a lot of rewriting later.