We all know that writing The End isn't the end. But what’s the best way to self-edit your manuscript before sending it off to beta readers, agents, or editors? There’s lots of advice online, but while I’m nervously awaiting my editor’s comments on Between the Lines (the follow up to Perfect Day), I thought I’d jot down my top five tips for doing that initial self-edit.
1. Put it in a drawer
Not a literal drawer, unless you actually write longhand. (Some people still do!) But once you’ve got your complete first draft—and I mean the first draft you’re intending to show people—you need to put it aside for a week, a month, or even six months if deadlines aren’t an issue. And use that time well. Take care of all the things you didn’t have time for while writing (tackling the garden, doing paperwork, seeing friends). Do anything, in fact, to avoid thinking about the manuscript sitting in your drawer. What you’re trying to do is get some distance between yourself and your work so that when you come back to it, you can read it like a reader.
2. Read it like a reader
When you come back to your manuscript, read it straight through and resist the temptation to start tinkering. If you notice something you want to change, make a quick note and move on. I write using Word so I use the comment function at this stage, noting things like ‘delete this scene?’, ‘Boring’, ‘Check spelling of his name’. The key here is to keep reading, because you want to give yourself the reader's experience of your novel. It's the best way to spot pacing issues, plot holes, and problems with character arcs. Is your story suffering from a soggy middle? Is the pace so fast you’re missing character detail? Does the emotional payoff work? Reading it like a reader will help you identify those global issues.
3. Eliminate your writer’s ticks
Once you’ve made the changes from step two, it’s a good time to go through and eliminate your writer’s ticks. We all have them—some that follow us from book-to-book, some that crop up in one title only. These are over-used words and phrases that start jumping off the page with each repetition. For example, characters who are always nodding, sighing, blinking, or chuckling. Eye descriptions often fall into this trap—my beta reader picked up many mentions of ‘dark eyes’ in Between the Lines. Changing these descriptions, or just deleting them, is a great way to tighten up your writing.You will have your own ticks, but here's my personal hit list:
- a little
Regarding the first three—a little, almost, and seemed—these are words that can suck the impact right out of your writing.There are times when they’re exactly the right words, but always check your usage. For example, if you write ‘Josh arrived the next morning, seeming pale’ do you mean he appeared to be pale but wasn’t really? Or would ‘Josh arrived the next morning, ashen-faced’ have more impact?
4. Read it out loud
Probably best to be alone for this one! It takes time, but reading your whole manuscript out loud is a great way to spot unrealistic dialogue, missing words, and awkward sentence construction. You don’t need to put in an Oscar-winning performance, just speak the words aloud. You’ll be amazed by what you pick up.
5. Do a final read in a new format
I always find it helpful to read my manuscript in a new format for the final read-through. For me, that either means my e-reader or printing out a hard copy. A hard copy makes it easier to note any changes you want to make, but I find an e-reader to be closer to a read's experience and therefore more valuable.
By the time you’ve finished all that, you’ll have polished your manuscript as much as possible on your own and it’ll be ready for a new pair eyes. After which you’ll pull it apart, revise it, and start again at step one...
Meanwhile, I’ll go back to nervously waiting on revisions for Between the Lines.
Perfect Day, my contemporary male/male retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, is published on 13th August 2018.
Love doesn’t burn out just because the timing’s wrong. It grows. It never leaves.
When Joshua Newton, prodigal son of one of New Milton’s elite, fell in love with ambitious young actor Finn Callaghan, his world finally made sense. With every stolen moment, soft touch and breathless kiss, they fell deeper in love.
Finn was his future…until he wasn’t.
Love stays. Even when you don’t want it to, even when you try to deny it, it stays.
Eight years later, Finn has returned to the seaside town where it all began. He’s on the brink of stardom, a far cry from the poor mechanic who spent one gorgeous summer falling in love on the beach.
The last thing he wants is a second chance with the man who broke his heart. Finn has spent a long time forgetting Joshua Newton—he certainly doesn’t plan to forgive him.
Love grows. It never leaves.
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