If you've got a knack for putting words and phrases together coherently, writing is pretty easy. Sure, it might be tough to get yourself into your writing chair to start doing the work, but most good writers are able to enter a "flow" once they begin to type or scrawl their ideas. The thing that's most difficult about writing is revisiting it with an editor's eye once the last word has been written.
If you're a writer, but you're stuck when it comes to the editing process, we have some great tips. Learning how to edit a manuscript properly might take some time, but it will improve your process and make your work more engaging. These tips don't cover every detail about editing, but they'll certainly help you feel more confident about your ability to deliver a polished product.
#1 – Rewrite and Rewrite Some More
Writing is really the process of rewriting. Before you don your editor's hat, you should go over your manuscript several times in the interest of making each sentence, each phrase and each word better. You may even need to rearrange or delete whole sections. Simply put, you're not ready to edit until you're completely satisfied with what you've written.
That's right – I gave you permission to step away from your desk, watch some TV, go for a walk or catch up on some reading. One of the biggest mistakes writers make is to begin the editing process immediately after finishing a project. Taking a break gives you the chance to readjust your brain and your perspective so you can edit effectively.
#3 – Find a Distraction-Free Zone
This should go without saying, but many writers fail to heed this advice. Editing takes just as much concentration as writing, if not more. Therefore, you should perform your editing in a place where you can devote all of your attention to the job at hand.
#4 – Make Your Manuscript Available for Critique
This is tough for many writers, but it's an essential part of the editing process. Few things are more valuable than another pair of eyes, which is why you should find other writers who will give you honest feedback about your work. If you don't know anybody, check to see if there are writers' groups in your area.
#5 – Look at Your Manuscript in Different Formats
If you've typed your manuscript using a word processor on your PC, print it out to perform the editing. If you wrote your manuscript on your laptop, take a look at it on your tablet. Changing the format will alert your brain that you're examining something different. This will allow you to catch mistakes that you might miss otherwise.
If you're a writer, there's little doubt that your mastery of language and vocabulary is sound. However, even the most intelligent writers make the mistake of misusing certain words. If you aren't 100% certain about the meaning of a word in your work, look it up and replace the offending word if necessary.
#7 – Eliminate Redundancies
We all have pet words and phrases that show up frequently in our work. These bits of language can help you establish a singular identity as a writer, but they can also make readers wonder if you're stuck on certain ways to phrase things. Use a critical eye and eliminate words and phrases that appear too often in your work (this is a great job for your critique group, as well).
#8 – That Thesaurus is There for a Reason
Even though overuse of your thesaurus can lead to disaster, there are few things worse (and more tiresome for your readers) than having the same word show up multiple times in the same paragraph. If you're writing about mountain climbing, for example, it's good to know that you can replace the word "climb" with "ascend," "scale," "mount," "clamber up" or "gain."
#9 – Reduce and Remove
Less is more, but writers will be writers. If you're wondering how to edit a manuscript to ensure that your work achieves maximum clarity, you're probably going to need to eliminate some passages – even if you've fallen in love with them. If any phrase, sentence or passage doesn't fit, or if it could be made more concise, you should always err on the side of brevity. At first, this process might be difficult, but after a while, you'll find that it's liberating.
#10 – Know When You're Done Editing
Once you begin the editing process, it's easy to keep searching for possible changes in your manuscript. However, you have to know when to stop editing if you want to have your work see the light of day. If you feel like making changes for the sake of making changes, it's time to take a breath and congratulate yourself on completing the most difficult (and most important) part of the writing process – editing.
Do you have any additional tips on how to edit a manuscript? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.
Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.