Search and Destroy: Tips for Self Editing from my Writing Cave

6 min read

There is always that bone-chilling moment where you are about to submit your manuscript to an editor, literary agent, or publisher, and you hit Send. But have you done everything you could to get the manuscript ready?

I’d like to share simple, but effective self-editing hacks I’ve learned throughout the years in self-editing. I usually do this before sending it off to a beta reader or editor, to make it as polished as possible. Please feel free to contribute in the comments if you have any tips for aspiring writers who might read this.

  1. When you are finished with the manuscript, run a thorough spell and grammar check. Many people still do not do this, and it’s amazing what writers can miss.
  2. Through “Find and Replace,” change or get rid of as many Adverbs and Gerunds (-ing endings) as you can. Lessening your manuscript in favor of stronger descriptions makes a huge difference and makes it more readable.
  3. Exclamation points and semicolons. Exclamation points should only appear in a manuscript 1-5 times. Semicolons shouldn’t be more than 18 for a novella, times up for bigger books.
  4. Replace dashes with em-dashes when do the interrupting bit for dialogue. (Change –“/–“/”- to —)
  5. Shave down your filter words through “Find and Replace” in Word, to avoid repetition and either replace them with stronger verbs, or get rid of them all together
  6. If you write erotic romance, check your naughty/vulgar words as they can sometimes be overused when a stronger verb can be utilized instead. If overlooked, the overuse of vulgar words can be distracting from the love scene.

Searchwork

  1.  Search for your time-based adverbs (i.e., when, then, suddenly, immediately, always, often, already, finally). Time-based adverbs such as suddenly, when, immediately, etc. can distract from action sequences or love scenes. Try removing them from the sentence, read the sentence out loud, and see if it works better without it (e.g., Susan immediately bolted out the door, to Susan bolted out the door). Many times simply removing a time-based adverbs can make the action much more effective.
  2. Love/Sex scenes: The best advice I can give for writing sex scenes is one of the oldest; use the Rule of Three – use at least three of the five senses to make the scene three-dimensional. If you have at least sight, taste, smell, etc., it’s a great mechanism for breaking out of writer’s block. Paint the scene for the reader. For open-door love scenes, while you need the physical elements and who put what where present, remember – great dialogue makes for a great sex scene.
  3. The “Find and Replace” feature (sometimes called “Search and Replace”) is an easy way to get rid of bad writing habits that you might not notice when reading straight through your novel.

Began and Started: Find anything with began/begin(-ing,etc) and start/started/starting and replace them with active verbs. This will strengthen the action and engage the reader.

Adverbs: Find words ending in -ly and either replace them with stronger verbs or cut them out entirely. Many editors and publishers consider adverbs “lazy author’s words.” I stick to the one a page rule, where it’s okay to have one -ly ending a page, that way you can be descriptive without it being tedious in your manuscript.

Gerunds: Like adverbs, gerunds (-ing endings) can distract from the action or point you’re trying to convey in a story. Allow yourself 1-2 gerunds a page, or try to replace them with verbs ending in -ed if it’s preceded by was, is, or were.

Redundant Phrases: Check for and omit redundant phrases, such as:

  • past memories
  • various differences
  • each individual _______
  • basic fundamentals
  • true facts
  • important essentials
  • future plans
  • terrible tragedy
  • end result
  • final outcome
  • free gift
  • past history
  • unexpected surprise
  • sudden crisis
  • large in size
  • often times
  • of a bright color
  • heavy in weight
  • period in time
  • round in shape
  • at an early time
  • economics field
  • of cheap quality
  • honest in character
  • of an uncertain condition
  • in a confused state
  • unusual in nature
  • extreme in degree
  • of a strange type

Shaving!

Shave down your filter words through “Find and Replace” in Microsoft Word to avoid repetition, and either replace them with stronger verbs or take them out all together. Commonly used filter words include:

  • Probably
  • Really
  • Almost
  • Saw/See
  • Hear/Heard
  • One of
  • In order to
  • There is, there are, there were (as sentence/paragraph starters)
  • All
  • At this time
  • At (in) this moment
  • In my opinion/I think/it seems
  • Try and (use try to instead)
  • For example
  • Already
  • Oh, well and oh well
  • Smile
  • Grin/Laugh
  • Very and every
  • Thing
  • All
  • Was

I have five rules I try to abide by when writing. Everyone has their own way of doing things, so this is in no way meant as a direction template. But if you find something which helps you, best of luck and let me know how it goes!

My Rules

  1. Write unapologetically. Finish your rough draft, no matter what. You can’t edit a blank sheet of paper.
  2. When your rough draft is complete, spend a good week with search and replace. Kill or replace your filter words, adverbs (-ly endings), and gerunds (-ing endings).
  3. Listen to the manuscript on text to speech. One way to do this is to save it as a .pdf, and you can listen to it either on your kindle or phone while doing house work, commuting, on your lunch break, or running errands.
  4. Edit without mercy. If a sentence is stronger with less words, change it. Manuscripts have to be bendable in order to find their true form.
  5. After you’ve done as much as you can by yourself, then send it to an editor or beta reader. Every manuscript needs a fresh pair of eyes. Make sure who you send it to knows the ins and outs of writing and can offer concrete feedback.
  6. Rewrite and revise if needed.
  7. Read through it again, listen to it on text to speech, then if you’re happy with what you have, submit it.

Good luck, writers!