So you've finished the first draft of your manuscript and it's time for editing to begin... do you run and hide under your covers hoping the elves will visit during the night and fix the errors? Do you send it on to someone else and let them deal with it? Or do you stare it in the face and refuse to let it beat you?
I don't think editing is anyone's favourite part of the writing process but it doesn't have to feel like a terrible chore either.
I tend to believe that a good edit is great for the soul. It's where you get to flesh out problems, fix pesky mistakes, cut unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters... (yes I said chapters too) and build on existing ideas that perhaps lack needed depth. It's where YOU as the author get to stand back and evaluate your work and make sure it reads the way you were hoping. After a good edit, reading your work can bring great pride and joy... or confusion as you ask yourself, 'Did I really write this? This is good stuff!'
Now I'm not for one second suggesting that you be the only editor of your work... no, no, no... what I am suggesting is that you start the process, after all this is your baby and you want every opportunity to make it all that you can.
So here are my suggestions on how you can make the most of your own edit before sending it on to someone else:
Edit while you write
You may be racing against the clock when writing the draft but taking a little time to review a chapter you have just finished will help to ensure you have written what you intended, fix any small details and see to it that it flows as you had hoped. If you see problems, fix them while ideas are fresh in your mind. If you notice spelling errors, especially words that are said the same way but have different spellings (homonyms) that Spellcheck will not pick up on, fix them straight away... you may not notice them later. This will give you a head start on your editing when you finish the draft.
Use a notebook to keep track of important information
This is useful at any stage of your writing but I tend to pull the notebook out when doing the first edit. I dedicate a page or two to each chapter to take notes that I can easily check back on when needed. I make notes of people (what they look like, what they wear, personality etc) chronology (What is the order and timing of events? does it make sense?) and the importance of that chapter (What do we learn here? Why do we need it? How does it progress the story?). In a book with 50+ chapters it is possible, that in writing over a 6 month or so period, some details will have somewhat changed or developed, its good to be able to refer back to these details and make sure things remain consistent.
Have the spelling and grammar check on and pay attention to what it highlights
What a great tool we have with Spellcheck!
Imagine what a long and arduous process it must have been before computers. Eek! Editors had their work cut out for them, pouring over manuscripts littered with errors or in some cases whiteout with a, slightly out of sync, retyped letter.
But not us in the 21st century! We have computers with spellcheck that underlines problematic words. When we right-click on them it will actually show us some word options. It's marvelous! No need to be an A grade speller, if you have some idea of the word you are trying to convey, it's an easy fix.
Yes spellcheck can be annoying, picking up on words you wrote that way on purpose eg. Ahh! or in my case picking up on words that are spelt the British way (because for me having been taught that way, anything else looks wrong) eg. specialise instead of specialize. Also I have my own world so I use many, many different words and names that are not in the english dictionary. But this is no big deal and I often make the effort to allow my program to learn the word so it won't bother me about it any more.
So use the spellcheck and pay particular attention to what it brings up... if it’s a mistake, FIX IT. If it's deliberate, either ADD IT to the dictionary or IGNORE IT. As for the green underline for grammatical issues, don't ignore it entirely, read what it advises... it's not always perfect but it may bring a problem to your attention.
Read ALOUD each chapter after editing
Once you complete the chapter you were working on... go back to the beginning of it and read it OUT LOUD (this may not work so well if you have people around you as you edit but I'm assuming you like to edit in peace and quiet or at least without distraction). Reading aloud helps you to slow down the pace, take in word for word and hear the flow. This way you may pick up spelling errors you missed because your eyes had run straight over them and, highlight any awkward sentences. If they are awkward for you to get your mouth around then chances are they will be awkward for your readers to get their mind around. Besides, you want it to sound good read out loud anyway. This will guide you into getting it right.
Rearrange, delete, rewrite, add
Don't be afraid to do what's needed to get the manuscript right. Maybe certain chapters would be better placed in a different order or yes... deleted all together (you'll pick up on this fact when you note the purpose for the chapter) If it is just a fill in for the sake of adding extra padding, it may be better deleted or released as a blog post for fans wanting more.
Take out unnecessary words or phrases that slow down the pace of the story or rewrite paragraphs that don't convey what you were hoping. You may even find you need to add bits and pieces here and there to ensure congruency or to fill in plot holes. Who knows what you will need to change but you are the best person to determine it since you have a complete understanding of the story. It may mean losing a beloved scene, killing off a good character or revealing something earlier or later than you had planned. Whatever it is, you'll be glad you did it.
Perfect each chapter before moving on
I'm not saying you should expect that each chapter will be perfection, if it were, you wouldn't need to forward it on to an editor. I'm saying get each chapter to a state where you feel happy with it and cannot find any other issues or mistakes... It will then be your editor’s job to find anything else problematic.
DO have someone else with some degree of knowledge of editing, grammar or english literature edit it for you, even if you are an editor yourself. The feedback you get from a differing outlook and unrelated pair of eyes is invaluable. Your edit is just the beginning of the process towards publishing but in no ways do you need to dread it, look it as a journey towards sculpting your masterpiece.