So you’ve finished your book. First draft completed. Huge sigh of relief.
But then the realisation hits: although you’ve achieved something that most writers don’t, you now have the gargantuan task of revising and rewriting your draft so it’s good enough to publish.
Editing your own book is hard – almost as hard as writing – and of course the easiest thing to do is to employ a professional editor. However, there are a lot of things you can do yourself that will improve your book enormously and cut down the amount of time an editor will have to spend on it.
In this article I want to show you how to get started on that process. I advise authors to polish their own book as much as they possibly can before submitting it to an editor. This means being ruthless – every time you reread your work you should find something else to improve. This may feel relentless, but remember that each time you go through this process with your book you are honing it and getting nearer to publication.
To help you, here are 5 self editing techniques you can use to reshape your book.
Take a break
When you finish the draft of a book, it’s a good idea to sit on it for a while before rereading any of it. This not only allows you to take a break from your subject matter, but helps you to get out of ‘writer’ mode. Writing and editing are very different skills, so you need a new hat to put on. Where you were creative and unfettered before, you must be ruthless and methodical now. When you return to your book, I suggest you first read through it from start to finish without changing or correcting anything. This is hard, but by reading it all the way through you will spot any sections that don’t work and get a feel for the book as a whole. At this stage it can be helpful to read your first and last chapters side by side. You will see how much you’ve improved as a writer and how you’ve developed your writing ‘voice’. This will allow you to go back to your early chapters and make them ‘match’ your eventual style once you get into the editing process.
Read it out loud
Reading aloud is the most powerful editing tool. Our brains react differently to words when we speak them aloud, as we can hear the rhythm and structure of our sentences. This helps us to pick out those that don’t work. Reading aloud also enables us to spot mistakes more easily. A typo you just didn’t notice when reading normally will suddenly be apparent when you read it out loud.
Print out your work
Chances are that until now you have only interacted with your writing on a screen. Even if you worked from handwritten notes, your main point of view of what you’ve written has been digital. Reading your work in printed form will enable you to spot errors, but it will also give you a different view of the content. Print out your work, double spaced and with wide margins. Now read it through on paper, writing notes and corrections in red. Although some of your readers may use an eReader, the majority will be experiencing your book in print, so you need to see it through their eyes. A carpenter making a chair will look at it from every angle on completion, checking for weaknesses and mistakes. But he only really knows if the chair is the best it can be by sitting on it.
Ask yourself two questions
For more detailed self editing tips, see this blog post or follow me on Instagram, but if you want to know what it all boils down to then I suggest you ask yourself two questions. Firstly, ‘Does my reader understand this?’ When editing your own book, you need to keep your reader’s level of knowledge in mind. Are you using jargon they’re not familiar with? Are you sharing content they’re not ready for? When rereading your book, check you’re bringing your reader with you and not leaving them behind.
The second question to ask is, ‘Am I entertaining my reader?’ If you are bored by what you’ve written, chances are your reader will be too. Is there a more engaging way of illustrating your point? Could you tell a story? Make it livelier? When you edit your book, highlight any passage that doesn’t light you up. If you can’t make it better, it has to go.
Remove weak or cluttered language
There are a million ways to improve your writing through the syntactic and semantic choices you make. There’s not time to go into all of those here, so I’ll give you my best advice instead: use strong, simple language. That means cutting any clutter – including excess adjectives and adverbs – and rewriting any sections that are weak. Weak language might include unnecessary use of the passive voice or an opinion expressed doubtfully. Go through your book and make sure you’re using the strongest words you can, arranged as simply as you can. Your book will be better for it.
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