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Editing and Revision Tips for Your Work

Kristen Howe is an author who's writing romance and thriller novels. She knows how to write stories and self-edit her novels.

Transform Your First Draft With Highlighters

At my first local half-day conference a decade ago, I attended a workshop titled, "Editing and Revising Your Work." I’ve copied down tons of notes. This first half dealt with editing and revision.

As writers, we either love or hate to edit and revise our work in many drafts to get it down and polished for a final manuscript.

Editing is done after every draft, and it helps to organize the edits and their purpose. For the second draft, we should highlight the wrong words in different colors. For anything we need to research, we should put in brackets. If you write fiction, we should print, then read it out loud those areas we need to "show" rather than "tell." In the third or fourth draft, we should correct the highlighted words.

When you highlight your manuscript, you should choose different colors like yellow for dialogue, blue for words that don’t fit like -ly words and extra words, and red for characters. Your highlighted text will help you make sure it sounds right. You can check dialogue vs. narrative, and also to see if what doesn’t propel the story, and if their character traits are consistent.

Find Shortcuts With Your Keyboard


Your Computer Is Your New BFF

Your computer is your new best friend with a couple of keys to fix your work. You can move around sentences and paragraphs with the cut and copy and paste keys. You can find a name, phrase, or a place with the Find and Replace option. You can highlight text with a color and indent in your toolbar. You can also use the zoom feature to spot things and enlarge your manuscript in the view tab.

"Writing Is Rewriting"

In your word processing software, you can cut and copy/paste with those icons. It helps you improve your story structure to move words and sentences, anywhere in your manuscript. Complete sentences are desirable to make your piece read smoothly, enhance tension, and begin with a bigger bang.

As for Find and Replace, you can click on “find" to “replace” any unnecessary words to erase adjectives and adverbs, such as very, just, so, even, rather, that, quite, suddenly, and so on. Use them sparingly.

Indents are used to indent the first line in the paragraph. Keep the chapter length consistent and shorter, like six to fifteen pages. Your margins should be an inch around paragraphs, so adjust the tabs by indenting them for paragraphs. Space breaks should be used for shifting POV or the time.

Editing Isn't About Grammar

Good grammar alone won’t sell your manuscript. It’s the story and how well it’s written that will. That’s what you need to concentrate on when writing the first, second, and third drafts. Your first paragraph should be powerful and engaging, introduce your characters early on, and use all the good elements of writing: lively writing, believable dialogue, captivating scenes, intriguing or memorable descriptions, and so on.

Here are some revision tips you need to concentrate on to make it sparkle with life:

  1. Print it out after you think it’s finished. Some writers edit on a screen when you can easily miss mistakes, typos, and awkward sentences. Then put it away. Don’t look at it for a couple days. Then when you’re ready, you can read it with a fresher perspective.
  2. Next, read your work out loud to hear how it sounds. If you have someone to trust, or have a knowledgeable friend or spouse to read the manuscript, they could give you feedback. You can also dictate words into a tape recorder and play them back. Listen for voice (is it clear or sound stiff), if you breath runs out before completing long sentences (time for a comma or period), if your tongue trips over certain words (one- or two-syllable words are often best). Reading out loud helps you notice if it flows smoothly and catches awkward sentences, and realize if you need to explain something in greater depth.
  3. When you’re merely looking for repeated words or typos, give this a try: scan your work backward, from the bottom to the top of the page. This forces the eye to focus on one word at a time, which stops the mind from skimming over errors.
  4. Here’s another idea to help you out with your editing. Take your hard copy and go someplace else to read and edit it. A different environment would help you look at your work with less familiarity. After you set it aside for a while, then read it in a different place (coffee shops and libraries are great!), you can see it almost as someone else’s work. Imagine that you’re an unknown reader passing time waiting in a doctor’s or dentist’s office and happen to pick up the article, essay, or book. Then read it as someone far removed from the piece. After the first paragraph, is this worth reading further? Interesting? Is prose clear and engaging, etc.?
  5. KILL YOUR DARLINGS!!! Go back through your piece and cut, reword, perfect. Imagine you’re a sculptor and need to hone and polish your masterpiece. Sometimes we think our prose is so wonderful, and then when we read it out loud, it doesn’t sound so hot. You might think it’s brutal, but kill them (or cut and paste into a file marked ‘'My Darlings'’), and see if the story or article reads better without it. Then you can decide on what needs changing, or if you should put it back. When you cut the darlings out, sometimes it tightens the storyline and makes it much more effective. Remember, sentences that begin with ‘'In my opinion", or ‘'One time I" (Watch for too many I’s in first-person prose), or “In conclusion,” are unnecessary banter and should be eliminated. Take out meaningless adjectives that don’t really describe anything, such as beautiful, cold, delicious, which are all subjective. Show the reader WHY it was beautiful or cold, etc., through more descriptive words, scenes, and dialogue.
  6. After careful word-by-word editing, now consider the content of the piece. Ask yourself this question: What’s the central idea I’m trying to communicate? This is something you should really do as you write the piece, but oftentimes the story gets away from you, so it’s a good idea to remind yourself what you’re really trying to convey in the piece.
  7. Trust your inner voice and intuition. Something about the piece feels nagging, but we have a tendency not to listen to what our writers’ instincts are telling us. Read the piece two or three times out loud. If you find yourself stumbling over the same sentence or paragraph, be honest with yourself and realize it needs to be cut or revised.
  8. Finally, have someone you trust—another writer or someone who reads a lot—to thoroughly read the manuscript and give their honest opinion. (So don’t use your mother, who will love it no matter how bad it is!) Always consider their criticisms, and you may see that they're right.

However, do keep in mind how you feel about the changes suggested, and then respond accordingly!

I love my brother's laser printer.

I love my brother's laser printer.

Final Notes on Editing and Revisions

I hope these eight steps on editing and revising your manuscript on your computer and hard copy printouts help you refine your work to a polished and final version. Please feel free to share, comment, and copy these notes for further reference!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Kristen Howe


Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on October 01, 2015:

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Thanks Jonas.

Jonas Rodrigo on September 30, 2015:

Helpful tips, Kristen. Good job!

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on July 24, 2015:

My pleasure Kaliinin! I'm glad the tips I've learned from a workshop worked wonders for your own work!

Lana Adler from California on July 24, 2015:

This hub gets me all fired up for some serious editing! I actually enjoy editing. I find it deeply satisfying when I find and correct a mistake, re-write a sentence or cut out those redundant "darlings". Great hub, thanks for sharing!

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on July 23, 2015:

My pleasure Esther. I'm glad to help fellow hubbers out in editing our writing.

Esther Strong from UK on July 23, 2015:

Reading backward to find typos etc is an interesting idea I will keep in mind for future reference. Thanks for sharing.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on July 21, 2015:

You're very welcome Margaret. I'm happy to share them to everyone here on HP that can be used in various writing forms. Thanks for the visit.

Margaret Schindel from Massachusetts on July 21, 2015:

Kristen, I'm a professional editor for a jewelry making magazine. One of the things I realized long ago is that everyone needs an editor - even editors who also are writers. These are excellent tips that can improve anyone's writing. Thanks for sharing them.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on July 11, 2015:

You're very welcome Sandeep.

Sandeep Rathore from New Delhi on July 11, 2015:

As a writer, I find your tips extremely informative. Thanks!

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 17, 2015:

Thanks Peg. It's my pleasure. We're all in the same boat to write the best. I'll do part 2 sometime next week to share on self-editing tips. :-)

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on May 17, 2015:

Great advice here. Thanks for sharing what you learned at a professional workshop. I really like number five, Kill Your Darlings. The idea of cutting out familiar passages and saving them to a separate file is a good one. That way they aren't gone forever if we decide the piece needs them.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 08, 2015:

Rich, you're such a sweet friend here at HP. Thanks for the vote and kind words on my hubs. Please do bookmark it and stay tuned for part 2 in a week or two. You're very welcome on your hubs.

Richard J ONeill from Bangkok, Thailand on May 08, 2015:

Some great tips here Kristen! As a writer of fiction myself these tips will come in handy in future. I'll have to bookmark this hub and come back to it later when it comes time to edit my manuscript(s).

Thanks for all the kind words you leave on my hubs. You are an inspiration to me!

Voted up and interesting!


Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 08, 2015:

thanks for stopping by and commenting Mel. I agree. We have our own preferences. Part 2 is coming up in a week or two.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on May 07, 2015:

Beautifully concise tips. Personally, I'm not one to print out my drafts and edit them in that fashion. I claim to like saving trees and just editing on the computer, but it's mostly because I am lazy and the word processor has been my salvation. We all have to work around our limitations, I suppose. Great hub!

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 05, 2015:

No worries Bill. I'm behind as well with everything in my life. Thanks for stopping by and commenting as well. I hate a love/hate debate with revision. Aww that's amusing my friend.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 05, 2015:

I am disgustingly behind this week and it's only Tuesday. Sorry I'm so late to the party today. Great suggestions. I love the revision process. For me, that's where the book really comes to life and the characters really become friends to me. :)

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 05, 2015:

My pleasure Alicia. Stay tuned for part two later this month.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 05, 2015:

Thanks for sharing these great tips from your workshop, Kristen. They're very useful!

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 04, 2015:

Thanks Rachel. I just copied down my notes for the past couple of days. You're welcome and thanks for the vote.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on May 04, 2015:

You obviously did a lot of work on this hub. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing, I voted up.

Blessings to you.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 04, 2015:

You're very welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on May 04, 2015:

Very interesting and useful tips. Thanks for sharing.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 04, 2015:

So true, Flourish. You'll never know what you're going to miss.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 03, 2015:

Reading aloud is especially valuable. It can reveal trip-ups that flow beautifully in one's head.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 03, 2015:

Thanks Benny. I hope you and other fellow hub writers improve their writing, one step at a time.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 03, 2015:

Thanks Benny. I hope it helps you improve your writing, one line at a time.

Ijeoma Peter from Lagos, Nigeria on May 03, 2015:

Nice one

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 03, 2015:

Good for you, Poetryman. It works best that way. Thanks for your many visits to my hubs. I owe you a bunch.

poetryman6969 on May 03, 2015:

Reading aloud often helps me to catch things that I would catch in no other way.

Kristen Howe (author) from Northeast Ohio on May 03, 2015:

Thanks Ron. That's what I've learned a few weeks ago at the conference. It doesn't hurt to try something new to improve your craft. Thanks for the visit.

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 03, 2015:

I like your #7. I've had to learn that when I stumble over a sentence in reading it, or feel that there's something that's just not right about it, I need to pay attention to that and rework it. Good tips.

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