How to Edit your Manuscript

Nothing is more frustrating than finding a mistake in your newly published written work. You may have already painstakingly gone through every paragraph, sentence, word and syllable and still, there it is. Standing out bigger than all the other words that surround it, a spelling error, so simple it would drive a grade three student to tears.

My number one tip to help avoid errors in your manuscript is to self-edit until you feel like you just cannot bear to read it again. Tweak out every last error you can locate so that your editor can really get down to correcting the nitty gritty. Try the following steps yourself before handing your work to your editor and see just how much deeper she can go:

  • Let it rest – give yourself a week or two or more to step away from the
    story. This will allow you to look at it with fresh eyes, and impress yourself
    with what you came up with.

  • Print it out – then with red pen and ruler in hand mark any obvious errors
    in spelling and structure that you can find as you read it through line by
    line. If you can’t print it, then at least change the font or colour you are
    using on your computer screen. You must change how your document is presented
    enough so that it looks new to you.

  • Embrace re-reading – editing, like writing, occurs in layers. Checks for
    spelling, grammar, structure, story, tense, passive voice, poor word choice,
    conciseness and so on. It is best to focus on one area of editing at a time.
    Write out your purpose on a post-it note and stick it on your workstation to
    remind you what you are looking to correct during this specific round and it
    will prevent you going down the rabbit hole of corrections in another area, not
    that you should ignore the rabbit hole, just flag it for the next round and
    keep on track.

  • Read aloud – it always pays to listen to your writing. You could read your manuscript
    out loud, get someone else to read it to you or utilise a text to speech program. When you actively listen to your words you can pick up on spelling errors and failings in sentence structure. You can find the places where you haven’t quite got your point across with the written word. I like to do this with headphones while following on with the text on my computer screen so I can make notes as I go. Remember to take regular breaks to prevent your mind from drifting.

The best you can do, is the best that you can do. An editor is trained to find and correct mistakes. Utilise their services by giving them the cleanest copy that you can do. Do not think for a second that this makes their job easier, it gets you more bang for your buck! The upside of receiving a manuscript that is edited beyond simple mistakes is that as an editor I can focus on deeper issues that will improve your story and assist your words to shine.

Avoid perfection paralysis.  You can edit your manuscript within an inch of your life, read and re-read it with ruler and red pen in hand. You can run it through online editing programs, word checkers and many other computer driven packages on the market. Ultimately, you have to
accept that sometimes mistakes will happen, even after you, your editor and your proofreader have done their rounds. Mistakes will squeeze their ugly way onto your polished page. It is unavoidable and happens to the greats. The trick is to minimise their occurrences by thoroughly editing your own work and keeping an open mind when working with your editor and proofreader.