In a lot of ways editing is my least favourite part of the process, but at the same time I do enjoy it, and I do like seeing that my skills in editing have improved.
So the first thing is that I was under the impression you need to let a manuscript ‘rest’ in a drawer for 6 months to a year, so that you can gain distance from the work and let your sub conscious work out plot problems or whatever.
This is, to put it bluntly, crappola.
You can edit something right away. Or you can wait a week if there are puzzles that need fixing up, or you can set it aside. But know that on some level the setting it aside for a time is you avoiding the next step. Remember that the resistance in your brain is trying to stop you succeeding, and telling yourself ‘no, I must not look at it for X time’ is a really easy way to never take the next step.
That said, a little distance can be nice, and sometimes you want distance. If it’s a particularly problematic manuscript for example.
Anyway, assuming you have let precisely the right time elapse, here’s some tips on how I wrangle the editing process.
Weasel words – Or filtering words. These are words which find their way into your writing but can easily be dropped or rephrased in order to make the sentence stronger. For example: That, just, looked, up, down – you’ll have your own words that you’re using or overusing, and a quick Ctrl + F + search for that word will highlight how many times in your manuscript you have it. Whittle them out, rephrase the sentence and see how your prose improves.
Beta readers – Beta readers are amazingly magical unicorns who like your work enough to read it and give you feedback on it. If you find good, reliable beta reader do whatever you can to keep them. I have a brilliant one who keeps track of plot holes, points out when a character’s turn of phrase doesn’t sound like them, and also peppers the manuscript with compliments and “Oh my God, I know these feels!”
Besides giving feedback on a draft, you can also bounce ideas off a trusted beta reader, such as “what if I made this guy the villain?” and see what they think.
Actual professional editors – these are worth their weight in gold, and although it can be a little daunting to pay someone a large chunk of cash when you’re starting out, the difference a good editor can make to your manuscript will definitely pay itself off in time. You learn more about writing craft, your own weaknesses as a writer and new techniques that can improve your next draft.
Proofreaders – different to an editor. An editor will look at characterisation, tension highs and lows, ways to improve the story itself. A proofreader will look for grammar errors and typos. Freaking genius, because even if you’ve done this yourself you’re going to miss things. You get so used to your own words that your brain skims over the details.
Editing software – I love Grammarly, but there’s also Hemingway, ProWriteAid, even the spell check in Google docs or Word. They’ll all pick up things you might have missed. Grammarly and Hemmingway will also pick up sentences which are too complex, or incidents of passive voice.
So I’ll generally do a few passes, one searching for my weasel words, one with beta reader feedback, then send it to the professional editor and do another pass with their feedback. Then run it through grammarly and word spell/grammar check and made the changes those programmes find which I also agree with.
And then Proofreader time, which I do last before uploading to Amazon. Amazon itself will also find a typo or two sometimes!
So editing is time consuming and it’s hard, and I don’t really like it, but it’s necessary and it’s a great way to upgrade my writing skills.
You’re never going to get a perfect, typo-free and perfectly punctuated manuscript, so at some point you have to say ‘fuck it, that’ll do’ or you’ll be polishing that thing forever. Don’t do that, accept it’s as good as it’ll get and let it go.