Top 7 Tips for Self Revision
Over the course of drafting your book, you’ll likely read it multiple times to perform some rudimentary editing on your own. This is good, and editing by yourself is an important step to take before sharing your work with others. Depending on your editing budget, independent revisions can be one of the most important factors in the editing stages of your own book. If you’re embarking on your editing voyage largely by yourself, or if you want to give your manuscript a stunning makeover before you share your work with an editor or critique group, here are a few ways you can go the extra mile.
You might not like the sound of your own voice, but reading your work aloud can give you insight on the readability and flow of your writing. The act of reading aloud also prohibits skimming, so you won’t jump over the parts that aren’t as well written. If the thought of reading out loud still makes you squeamish, try pairing it with some ambient music or a soundtrack. The extra mood given by the music will give an extra kick to the narration.
If there is any way to read your book in print instead of on the screen, do it. Reading words on a screen over a prolonged period of time fatigues your eyes. That might not mean much when you’re pounding out a draft, but as you start looking for errors and potential fixes, you need every advantage you can get. The ideal solution here is to print your book out and then read out loud from the pages, though this can also happen through two separate read-throughs. If you have the resources or printer availability, the next tip will also come into play.
When you’re printing a copy of your manuscript, it’s tempting to save paper and print at single-spaced lines. This is also easier if you drafted in single space to begin with and, in that case, would require no extra formatting. However, the extra space is worth giving yourself so that you don’t need to restrict your revisions to the margins. If your handwriting is small or your draft is very polished, you can get by with 1.5 line spacing instead of double spacing, but otherwise, double spacing is a good way to give yourself extra places to write.
Professional editors don’t look for everything in a single read-through. Instead, they work with a purpose–deciding first what they want to look for, and then reading through the draft and focusing almost exclusively on that. To get the best results from your self-editing, expect to read through your book multiple times looking for different areas to improve. You might try emphasizing natural and witty dialogue, catching grammatical and punctuation mistakes, or checking consistency in your characters and plot as a whole. When you edit like this, it’s fine to make notes of other changes as you see fit, but don’t overwhelm yourself by attempting to catch everything at once.
Know the difference between tweaking a passage and re-writing it, and then be intentional about which you choose. Tweaking is when you place your cursor in a word of text and change a word here or there for the sake of improving it. This method is fast, simple, and great for minor changes and typos. Re-writing is when you decide to write a passage over again, entirely (or almost entirely) by scratch. This is best for continuity, style and tone. Often, writers try to cut corners by tweaking sections that should be re-written. This leads to the text in question developing a nasty auto-tuned style that, while technically hitting the right notes, comes off as more soulless than authentic and passionate. At the same time, re-writing everything when your work only needs a couple minute changes can also dangerously alter the style while not giving you the boost that you probably want.
Many people focus on independent revisions because of the sheer cost of hiring an editor to review their work with them. In those cases, it can be a relief that some basic editing services can be found for a very low-cost subscription or even for free online. Sites like ProWritingAid and Fictionary can help you spot problems in your draft from an early period and give you a chance to fix them before an editor reviews your manuscript. While neither is a replacement for having a human editor working with you, tools like these can give you a needed boost and simplify your editing process in the long run.
Your writing will never be perfect. That book you’re working on, too. It won’t be perfect, and no matter how many hours you pour into fixing it, someone else will easily be able to point out the flaws that you missed. If you’ve revised your book to the point where you have trouble knowing and understanding what you should fix, let someone else read it over and share her thoughts. You might be surprised at some of the easy ways you can fix your book up to a presentable level. How do you like to revise your work? What do you look for when reading over your own writing? Please share in the comments below or check out my group for self-publishing fiction writers on Facebook for further discussion.