Three quick self-editing tips

Get your manuscript up to scratch

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Hi everyone, I hope you’re having a safe, productive and peaceful early March, despite the continuing challenges of our everyday reality. On that note, I’ll be taking two months off this newsletter as it’s been an overwhelming time of balancing work, writing and care for a family member, so I need to let one thing drop for a little while. I have many more tips for you, though, and I promise I’ll be back!

For now, here are three tips to keep in mind when editing your own work.

Rest your manuscript

Once you’ve finished a draft of your manuscript, put it down and walk away from it for several months. For some writers, this is very hard. Life is short, I know! But continually tinkering without taking time to step back and consider the work as a whole can mean you make the wrong decisions for it, or simply fail to see many of the issues (of characterisation, conflict, pacing, and more). I can assure you, once you’ve taken a break, you’ll be able to see the work with greater clarity.

Be careful about an unclear point of view

Your novel’s point of view needs to be a deliberate decision that you make and then maintain throughout the manuscript (or shift only deliberately and obviously for the reader). I’ve assessed many manuscripts where the writer has not realised they have not made a firm decision about point of view. The most common one I see is a ms that hovers between omniscient and limited (but shifting) third-person POVs. This can be jarring for the reader.

If you’re choosing an omniscient POV, it can help to think of the ‘narrator’ as a character in itself, with its own voice, and this can help you keep track. A limited third-person POV that shifts between different characters must be skilfully handled, and established from very early on in the book. It’s rare, with shifting third-person POV, that a writer can ‘hop heads’ mid-scene successfully (most writers will swap POV scene to scene or chapter to chapter) but I’ve certainly enjoyed the writer’s skilfulness when they do so. In other words, there are no firm ‘don’ts’ but there are choices you can make that are best for your story, and once you’ve made them you must carefully sustain them throughout the work. I go deeper into POVs in my character course.

Clean up your prose

I’ve sent authors off to search for ‘thing’, ‘something’, and ‘anything’ in their manuscripts and replace most instances of general or vague language with concrete descriptions. Look out for superfluous instances of ‘very’, ‘just’, ‘so’, ‘such’, ‘much’, ‘really’ and other words that make your writing more verbose than it needs to be. And watch for excessive ‘ly’ adverbs, such as ‘beautifully’, ‘quietly’, ‘carefully’, ‘horribly’ or, my favourite, ‘gently’. (Favourite as in I overuse it myself!) If your sentence contains several ‘ly’ adverbs, they will weigh it down and garble the intended effect. Be sure not to overuse all the above and instead use clear and specific language to create both readable and resonant prose.

I’m teaching a full-day workshop on editing your own fiction at Writers Victoria (Melbourne) on 22 May, if you’re based in Melbourne and would like to learn more!

Opportunity of the month

Overland – Australia’s only radical literary magazine – has been showcasing brilliant and progressive fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art since 1954. Overland is now open for fiction submissions.


Take care, stay safe, and get in touch if I can help with anything,

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