I’m doing a lot of editing these days. We’re approaching the final workshop for my novel The Real World Monitor, and I’m doing a huge rewrite of my second novel, Schism. I also have a number of short stories which I’m going over, so I’m spending a lot of time going over my writing, changing things here and there, and writing in entire new sections. Editing a novel is a huge process, and it seems like once I change one thing, I have to change two more things which it affects.
Okay, here’s a piece of advice which you may have already heard, but it’s a trick I like to use.
When you edit, read it out loud.
Yes, you will look crazy. If you write in a cafe, you may get kicked out. Okay, not really, but you’ll probably feel self-conscious. That’s all right. Read it out loud and make sure it flows. I did this a lot when I was writing poetry, because in the poetry workshop we’d have to read our work out loud to the group. I got used to it, and it works for me.
Change the font.
Here’s another trick I actually use. I change the font size and the font for the entire piece, and then reread. It changes the line ends and the page breaks, and often that’s where mistakes hide. One of the banes of my existence is that my mind moves so fast when I’m writing that I skip over words. I think I write them, but I don’t actually get them down. Then when I’m reading my work my brain fills in the gaps, and in the end I have a sentence which makes no sense to anyone but me. So, changing the font kind of resets my brain. I mean, I still make mistakes, and there’s nothing like a good editor to pick those out, but this one helps.
Reading it backwards.
This is one I hear all the time. Read it backwards. I don’t. I couldn’t imagine reading a whole novel backwards. I mean, I get it. When we’re reading we get caught up in the story and then we forget to look at individual words or phrases. I can’t do it for long without my mind wandering terribly and I get nothing done. If this one works for you, fantastic!
The Find and Replace feature in word processing programs is fantastic. I’ve gone through a story and changed a character’s name in seconds. I’ve changed the gender of a character, but it was harder because I had to make sure all the pronouns were changed, but only for that character, so the find and replace didn’t work well for that one. Now, there are some words which we use a lot that we should rethink. ‘That’ is one of those words. Chances are, you could go through your work and pull out almost every ‘that’ in your piece and not lose any meaning. It’s a word which is often used when ‘which’ is a more appropriate choice. You might want to search words like ‘very’ and ‘really’ in order to find better adjectives or adverbs. Or get rid of all adverbs altogether. You can probably find verbs which convey the same meaning anyway. ‘In order to’ can be change to ‘to.’ ‘Start’ and ‘started’ can also be cut. Search for ‘is’ and see if you can use a contraction. You also might also want to look for the word ‘also.’ Cutting that one might also make your piece stronger, also.
Specific Read Through
Read through for a specific reason. I always start a read through looking solely at tense. Tense is so easy to mess up, so read the piece with that in mind. Past perfect participle can be a killer! Read through and make sure your speech identifier tags are ample enough to let the reader know who is saying what.
There we are. Now go edit your work. Editing is the key to writing.
I used the word ‘that’ thirteen times in this article.