As hundreds of hopefuls are gearing up for #PitchWars this week, there has been lots of editing talk on the feed. How much is too much? How do you know when to stop? What’s the best use of your time (hint: it’s not #PimpMyBio)? What should you focus on first?
This year, I created a catch-all post on my blog that has many different topics listed—everything from crafting a synopsis, to getting rid of crutch words, to a cheerleading post encouraging you to keep on keepin’ on. But the posts I want to focus on are some of the self-editing tips I’ve included, and add a few more to the list.
While it’s true that mentors are not looking for perfection in the manuscripts that come our way, why not give your manuscript a leg up if you can? Here’s the real truth: I’m going to have my mentee do this homework anyway. So if it’s already done? Bonus points for you! That means that on a MS that maybe has more structural issues—deep edits that may take long enough to complete to make me nervous—but already has all this detail work done, I wouldn’t be hesitant to take it on with the short two-month revision period. Not like I may if it needed deep work and needed an editing overhaul. Make sense? You doing the work ahead of time means we have more opportunity to get into the thick of things and focus on Big Issues.
There are so many subjective reasons for mentors (and agents and editors) to say no. Why give them an objective reason to do so?
So how do you do this? I have a handy checklist I go through every time I finish a manuscript. The good news is the more you write and edit using said checklist, the more of a habit you’ll build, and these edits will start to come out while you’re writing instead of after the fact.
Only my mentees have gotten this checklist, but I’m going to share with you all because I like you and because you stopped by and checked out my blog post. And because you’re all submitting to me anyway. Right?
This is a great place to listen for awkward phrasing, clunky word choices or sentence structure, or unrealistic/stiff dialogue.
Seems like a no brainer, but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t do this.
Check chapter headings for consistency
Not just in numbers (1-20+, not skipping any), but in naming (Chapter 1, Chapter One, One, etc).
Find and cut your filter words
I have been preaching on this since I jumped on the feed this year. Upload your MS into wordle.net (you have to have Flash player installed, I believe, so if it’s not working, try that). Your biggest words are the ones you use the most. They’re probably back, just, then, really, quite, etc, and your MC names. Yes, even the names need to get slashed. You probably don’t need half of them.
Find and replace your distancing words
Doing this will give you stronger sentences which will in turn make your MS tighter. Felt, heard, saw, noticed, thought, realized, looked are all words that distance the reader from your MC. Find every sentence that has them and figure out a different, more powerful way to craft that sentence without it.
How many times do you classify your hero’s eyes with something pretty and poetic? His ocean eyes. His whiskey eyes. His rainforest eyes. How about your heroine’s hair? Her mahogany hair. Her long, flowy hair. You get my point. Mention it once, maybe twice, and then they’re just eyes/hair/skin/whatever. I know the descriptions are pretty. But they still need to go.
I’m putting this in here because some writers abuse this and use way too many. But I’m gonna let you in on a secret: I love them and I use them. That said, if you have fifteen on a page, you need to cull. Do a search for –ly and find them, then make sure you can’t replace it with a stronger verb.
You don’t need to say she shrugged her shoulders or he nodded his head. She shrugged. He nodded.
Search and delete exclamation points
They’re overused and generally not even needed. Here’s a tip: Find and replace them all with a period. Then when you do a final read through, see what ones you need to add back in. There probably won’t be many.
Creepily moving body parts
His hands roamed over her body. Her eyes rolled. Anchor them to a person and reword for a stronger sentence.
There's your handy dandy self-editing checklist! Now that you have it, are you worried you don’t have enough time to get this done before the submission window closes? I don’t believe that, unless you’re a single parent working three jobs. (In which case, kudos to you. You’re amazing.) You have time. Use it to deliver the strongest MS you can.