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The Art of Editing

As an author, you become used to spending hours and hours editing your own work. Draft after draft of plot revisions and line-by-line analysis. While every author should have an editor – it's just not possible to catch everything yourself – knowing how to review your own work is key. A polished manuscript is essential, especially if you want to self-publish or submit your work to agents.

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Step 1: Read your manuscript

You can’t know which parts of your manuscript need editing until you read through it. Start at the beginning and read right through to the end. Yes, it’s a pain but it will benefit your work in the long run. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your read-through:

  • Read out loud – this way you can hear how your story sounds and catch any major inconsistencies.

  • Use the Dictate tool on word – having your story read out to you is another great way to hear how it sounds but in someone else’s voice.

  • Print out your work – printing an entire manuscript is costly but it's often easy to spot mistakes on paper than on a digital file.

  • Make notes as you read – write down anything you notice in a notebook or on another document so that you don’t forget.

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Step 2: The big picture

Once you’ve read through your work, you can begin the revisions. If you haven’t found any, look again. Manuscripts are rarely perfect the first time around. The first revisions you make should all relate to the bigger picture e.g. plot structure, pace, and character. Here are some key questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does my opening grab the reader?

  • Does my plot follow an arc?

  • Does the plot maintain a strong pace?

  • Do my main characters experience self-growth (character arc)?

  • Are my main characters believable and interesting?

  • Is my plot consistent e.g. timelines and events?

  • Do any of my scenes feel rushed and/or irrelevant?

  • Is the point of view consistent?

Top tip: Save deleted extracts. You never know when you might need them.

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Step 3: Refine each scene/chapter

Now you’ve explored the plot, you can break down your work into smaller sections. Go through each chapter one by one, revising content as you go. Here are some tips to help you:

Here’s what you can do at this stage:

  • Get on with the story – any filler detail that doesn’t advance the plot can go.

  • Avoid a linear timeline – you don’t have to include every single minute of every day.

  • Restructure paragraphs – don’t make them too long or fill them with unnecessary detail.

  • Rephrase sentences – avoid telling the reader what’s happening and show them instead.

  • Avoid over-explaining – readers don’t need to know everything; keep an element of mystery in your writing.

  • Avoid passive voice – make your characters and plot active instead as this will improve the pacing.

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Step 4: Vocabulary

Run through your manuscript again to check for vocabulary errors. Authors tend to repeat certain words that get stuck in their heads, so watch out for these.

  • Remove repeated words

  • Replace common words with impactful synonyms e.g. ‘good’ becomes ‘excellent’

  • Remove filler words e.g. very

  • Avoid sentences starting with ‘and’ or ‘but’ – though more accepted these days, frequent use can lower the quality of your writing.

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Step 5: Final proofread

In your final proofread, you should be checking for any last errors. If you are traditionally published, someone will likely do this for you. If you are not, or if you are hoping to submit your manuscript to an agent, it’s always worth looking through one last time. You could even ask a friend or family member to look through it for you. Receiving conductive criticism from others is an essential part of the editorial process.

**If you're an editor or a writer, what are your top tips for a polished manuscript?**



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