When I wrote my first book, straight out of writing school with a head full of rules, I had a lot of self-editing checklists and dos and don’ts. These were my two favourites:
The ten mistakes list
I’ve come across this list of ‘rules’ on several other websites/blogs, but this is where I found it initially (and this version has pretty colours!)
Nuts and bolts: ‘Thought’ verbs
I believed that I’d discovered the key to writing when I came across this advice from Chuck Palahniuk, and I painstakingly ‘unpacked’ my writing and eliminated every thought verb.
When it came to self-editing my second book, I didn’t take much notice of checklists or rules. I left in a few (gasp) adverbs, ‘to be’ verbs, and dialogue attributions other than said. And sometimes (sorry Chuck Palahniuk) I let my character simply think or remember something.
I alternate between editing on paper and screen: mark-up on paper, take in changes on screen, then back to paper, then screen, then paper and so forth until I feel too guilty about trees.
My self-editing tips:
- Keep a style sheet of tricky spellings, repeated words, and character speech and body language patterns for cross-referencing.
- Compile a list of words you become aware of overusing so you can do a Word find (and replace if necessary) at the end.
- Change the font and point size in your document (this makes repetition magically jump out for me).
- Read your work aloud (I know somebody who uses a speech function to hear their work, but I haven’t tried that).
More tips from Write Club:
- Put it aside for a while — like weeks — between major edits.
- Do at least one edit from paper rather than electronically.
- Read it aloud. The whole thing. Ideally to someone, to stop you cheating/skimming etc.
- Print out to read.
- Check for word repetition.
- Fact check.
- Timeline crosscheck.
- Ensure each chapter has a new direction, and each para point towards that action.
- A quote from Elizabeth Gilbert (thanks Connie):
“Decide what it is you want.
Write that shit down.
Make a fucking plan.
Work on it.