As Susanne Gervay remarked in a comment on last week’s post on this topic http://wp.me/ppiTq-Fl ,

“Editing needs NOT to be rushed.”

And it’s totally true. How many of us rush through the rewrites to get our manuscript off in the next mail or submitted to that great competition happening in two day’s time? Or perhaps, just because we’re sick of the fact that we haven’t sent anything ‘out’ in ages? How many of these manuscripts actually end up being published in this form? Not many I’d say.

Editing a draft manuscript is like sipping a nice glass of wine or savouring chocolate; it needs to be tasted and revered, to be given the time to express its true flavours.

When I take editing slowly, look at chapter by chapter, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, line by line and even word by word, I discover that so much can be improved about a draft that I may have thought was ‘finished’.


Know your weaknesses as a writer and you’ll be able to make your manuscript a lot tighter.

These are the things I specifically look for when I’m editing because they seem to be things I keep doing in my writing. So until I break the habits, I need to watch out for them:

1.            I say something is happening and then I show it. You  just need to show what’s happening and character’s reactions; don’t need to say that it happened as well. Here’s what I mean:

It annoyed Amanda when her mother nagged her. “Can’t you just trust me for once,” Amanda folded her arms in front of her and glared at Mum.

Don’t need “It annoyed Amanda when her mother nagged her.” The reader can tell from what Amanda says and doses that this is so.

2.            Find a ‘favourite’ word and overuse it. A simple word search will reveal this.

3.             Write a paragraph back to front so that the consequences come before the actions.

4.            Use a lot of character names or places beginning with the same letter.

5.            ‘That word will do’ is another of my writing enemies. A word, ‘won’t do’.

You have to find the word that works best – the one that has the strongest and most relevant meaning.

6.            Boring sentence structure – if it bores you, it will bore the reader. You need to vary it and make it flow. Look at joining some of the shorter sentences. Short sentences are great in a suspenseful situation to convey tension.

In the lead up to conflict you can look at varying the length and structure – perhaps using metaphors and other devices to give the reader a feel for your setting and insights into characters.


1.            Your objective self – try and step back from the manuscript and read it as if someone else has written it.

2.            Your voice. Reading your manuscript out aloud will reveal if a word has been repeated. You can than do a search for this word to make sure you haven’t overused it.

3.            Reading your manuscript in small pieces will help you pick up bad paragraphs. For example, edit two or three pages then take a short break so that when you go back the manuscript is fresh.

If you edit for hours at a time without a break, it can be easy to miss the ‘small’ things in your manuscript.

4.            Make up a style sheet. This is simply a piece of paper laid out like a table with a letter of the alphabet in each box. List all your place and people names next to the letter of the alphabet they start with. This will show you if you have overused a letter and which ones you’ve hardly used at all.  You can also do one of these for your characters and this will help you pick up if they have changed eye or hair colour mid manuscript.

5.            A good reader, crit buddy or group can prove to be your best friend/s. They will pick up things you haven’t even thought of. I find that with writing YA, it’s particularly useful to have a teen reader because they will pick up where they voice and behaviour of a YA character is not authentic.

6.            A style sheet for abbreviations, anagrams etc so that you can be consistent every time.

7.            A Thesaurus is one of my best friends and helps me get rid of mundane or repetitive words in my manuscript.

If you have some other editing devices for picking up the little things in your novel, we’d love to hear about them.

Last week we looked at editing methods and this week we’ve looked at some of the nitty gritty to do with editing.

Next week we’re going to look at delving deeper into your story and editing its shape to make it stronger.

Happy writing and editing:)


* * Special thanks to Karen Tayleur for introducing me to and providing me with sample style sheets.


  1. Am totally with you on all these points Dee. Love your comprehensive summing up of pitfalls of editing and also that you (already) have the Easter eggs in the basket to be unwrapped to find the delicious interior surprise.
    The word I try to use as little as possible is “it”. Years ago I circled all the instances that I used it (!) (that word) and believe me, if you had left just the circles, and no letters, the page would have been filled with polka dots. It is out, only allowed in the text when I have a good excuse for not finding something else to describe this, that or the other.
    I got a lot of good use out of “Edit Yourself” by Ross-Larson.

  2. Thanks, Lia,

    The stylesheet is great isn’t it? I think that’s what the editors use. I was amazed to discover I had ‘favourite letters’ that I like to start names of people and places with. It has really helped me pick this sort of thing up in my writing.


  3. Looks like your favourite letter is ‘B’. 🙂
    This is brilliant advice, Dee. I’m bookmarking it. I love a checklist. I’m guilty especially of overusing favourite words …

  4. Hi Dee, this is really useful and practical information for me to use. I often rush through re-writing and I know it doesnt do the piece justice. Ive never used a style sheet before, but im game to give it a go. I’m ready for school to go back though I have to admit!

  5. Thanks, Neridah,

    It’s really hard to slow yourself down when you’re editing, isn’t it? I think we all get really keen – we see the light at the end of the tunnel and we ‘go for it’. Hope you get lots of writing done when school goes back. I have to admit that I’m pretty lucky. My boys sleep in, so if I start at 5.30 when hubby gets up for work I can get a heap done before they’re even out of bed.

    Hope the style sheet works for you:)


  6. Hi Dee. I was nodding as I read your post. I make most of these writing/lack of editing pitfalls. There is a hunger to send a piece of work out, and often in a hurry to meet a deadline. Your points have given me plenty to think about and to watch for. Thanks for such a great post.

  7. You’re just all over this writing gig aren’t you Dee?? =) Another great and informative post! Hey, do you know off hand of a tool that you can run on a document to analyse the word stats? (And if anybody replies “your eyes” I may just be forced to kill them). Such a tool would, ideally, rank your top X number of words used? Just as an alternative to using word-search on a bunch of semi-randomly chosen (or suspect) words. Ta. Scott.

  8. Hi Kaye,

    It can be so hard to exercise self restraint:) We know how long we’ll be waiting for a response so it’s easy to get overanxious about sending things out.

    I think it really pays to leave a draft for at least a month and then read it again before you send it out. A month isn’t really a long time if it leads to an acceptance in the end:)

    Good luck with your submitting:)


  9. Thanks, Chris,

    Glad you found the style sheet helpful. Amazing what you pick up isn’t it?

    Good luck with your edits – hope your novel sings all the way to the bookstores:)


  10. What a great post – thank you. Often I enjoy editing more than writing, but only my own work! Writing can be a relentless slog and editing the relaxing bath when it’s over.

  11. Thanks, Ryan,

    I love that analogy, although I must admit I find it hard to look upon editing as a relaxing bath LOL.

    That’s one of the things I love about blogging and connecting with other writers. We all work so differently and it’s always great to hear about how other writers write.

    Happy writing and editing:)


  12. I am arriving late to the writing party and had never even thought to do an alphabet check! Love the style sheet idea.

    Dee (and Scott) I thought you might like a free online tool I use called word counter. http://www.wordcounter.com/ It ranks the most frequently used words in your text. You paste text in, set parameters like how many words to show, whether to include a, the etc and click go. I find it so useful and fast for picking up the fact that I overused certain words.

  13. Ta also Susan – I’ve already mailed that link to myself at home (sure beats finishing the messy fortran program that I’d just started for that very purpose!) On that score, I probably owe you several hours of my time (and as many donations to the swear jar) =)

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