Stephen King couldn’t have put it any better when he said, “To write is human, to edit is divine.” Very true statement indeed. The steps below will undeniably aid you in creating a better manuscript for your books and articles.
So, you’ve read about why you shouldn’t give your readers a stone crushing moment right? Now it is time to learn the simple ways to self-edit your book.
1. Give it time: Yes, time. Great books aren’t made in a hurry, it takes time and process to ensure quality. Great and award-winning writer, Stephen King usually keeps his completed manuscript in his drawer for up to six weeks before visiting it again. When you proceed to edit your book just after you’re done writing it, you will definitely skip a lot of things. In that moment you’re thinking “Wow… I just finished the book I’ve been writing for weeks” or you may be thinking “Phew… now I’m finally done… let’s hit the press.” The excitement is understandable, very many people have not written a word of the book they’ve always wanted to write and several others have died with the book in them. You’ve overcome that. But, hey… Slow down. Being an author is a process. Give your manuscript time to breath and your mind time to relax and brood on other things.
Give it not less than a week or weeks, then return to it. Let me keep my lips sealed here… but let me tell you that, you’d be amazed by what you discover.
2. Find your most used word: every writer has a set of words they use frequently, sometimes unconsciously. For a long time, I realized that I always use words like “It is very important to note that…” I’ve used this several times in chapters of books I write or long articles I put together. I found simple ways to eliminate this and communicate more clearly. Find your most used words, the ones you use repeatedly to emphasize and point and use other words or verbs to communicate more directly.
Eg: “It is important to note that having a professional editor work on your book is necessary to have a properly finished book.”
Rather I’d write: “Engaging a professional editor gives your book a quality finish which you may not be able to achieve on your own.”
I just rewrote that sentence, how does that sound?
3. Keep it short and simple: It may be okay to blab when talking to a friend or a colleague at the office, but it certainly is not when writing a book. You never know who may pick up your book. Besides this, you just have to keep it short, direct and simple. Why have a paragraph of 600 words when what you intend to communicate is just about 50 words within that? No one loves to read words that do not tell. William Strunk wrote in his book, Elements of Style, “Let each word tell.” Every word you write in that book must have its purpose, if it just lies passively, kill it.
4. Communicate the message: I once listened to Ofilispeaks and he said while putting his first book together, “How stupidity saved my life” he worried constantly about the length of the book and if he had enough words written. He had a light bulb moment much later when he realized he only needed to write enough as needed to communicate the message he intended to. Every other thing didn’t matter. You should only have words enough to communicate clearly and fully the message you intend to communicate to your audience. Don’t seek for a book of 500 pages, when all you need to communicate can be done in 200 pages. Andrew Crofts, a writer which I’ve come to love his works talks about this too. Having to write 150000 words he ghostwrites for people, sometimes he has struggles doing this. Usually, he realizes that he has communicated everything he has in mind at 50000 words only to realize that he has 100000 more words to go. That’s killing. He has to meet that goal – the client wants it.
Except you are a J K Rowling or Stephen King, you should stick to what works. Write to communicate your purpose, when that is done. Stop writing. All the rest may be unnecessary.
5. Read your manuscript over and over again: if you’re considering print publishing immediately you’re done, I’d recommend you steal out chunks of time to read over and over again. With digital publishing, you may be able to edit again and again. Amazon even helps you highlight some errors in the manuscript you submitted. Sadly, your printing press won’t do that. They only print whatever is given to them. You don’t want to print 1000 or 2000 copies of a book that the readers will have a hard time reading.
So, read your manuscript repeatedly make corrections as much as you can. You can engage help from family and friends, well wishers. Ensure that they will be able to give you the kind of feedback that you need. Not flattery, but honest feedback that will help you make the necessary improvement. Mobolaji Olorisade who’s the author of Letters to our Fathers said her father repeatedly made corrections to ensure that there were no single errors in the book. They did a great job.
Wrapping this up, don’t be apprehensive about this. After all is said and done, you must take courage to hit the publish button, or to hit the press. Don’t be overly anxious or afraid of some error you may have missed. If you have done your homework properly, you would have a beautifully finished manuscript.
Peradventure, if one tiny little detail escaped your eyes, your friends or others who read the book, you can always have a revised edition. This is why they are called REVISED. You’d simply revisit the book again, this time you may also engage the services of a professional editor.
I recommend reading William Strunk Elements of Style