How To Edit Like A Pro

How To Edit Like A Pro


In this post, we look at the process of editing and tell you how to edit like a pro.

Guest Post

So, you’ve got this awesome manuscript. You know it’s a first draft and you need to edit it. There are tons of advice on how to do it. Grammar, style, spelling – you name it.

But have you ever thought about the media you use?

How To Edit Like A Pro

The Medium Is The Message

In 1967, Marshall McLuhan wrote a book explaining that ‘the medium is the message’. What he meant is that whatever tool we use has a big impact on the result we get. This is true for any text. How we write and how we edit greatly influences our work.

3 Media To Use To Edit Like A Pro:

  1. The computer: with its built-in functions of checking grammar, spelling, punctuation, as well as the ‘editor’-function
  2. ‘Read aloud’-function of the computer
  3. Editing the manuscript on paper.

1. The Computer

The computer is our first go-to for editing. Editing begins with proofreading. The computer has lots of functions built into word-processing which we can and should use. They tell us about wrong punctuation, spelling mistakes, and basic grammar mistakes. If you switch on the editor-function, then you get even more. All these hints are valuable and should be going into your edit.

Sometimes they fail, however, or they just don’t get that you are using an unusual spelling as a wordplay. These built-in features are very basic. Bear in mind, that there are specific grammar apps like Grammarly which give you more refined results. But all of this is just proofreading. We need to gear up to enhance the message of our text.

2. Reading Aloud

Have the computer read your manuscript to you. If someone else reads the text, you can distance yourself from it.

  1. You’ll hear what your style really sounds like to others.
  2. You’ll hear the excess words, the wrong conjugations and prepositions.
  3. You’ll notice if your sentence has the right ring.
  4. You’ll find out if your style is distinctive and consistent, or hotch-potch.

Please fix all of that before you proceed.

3. Final Edit: Paper, Please!

The final edit should be done on paper. But what about those trees? I hear you! That’s why the first edits should be done using the computer. The paper used for the final edit is vital to your success as an author. I can prove it to you.

The Experiment

I once did an experiment with a group of journalists. They were given an article full of mistakes of any possible kind, even wicked ones like semantic and structural mistakes (those are the ones computers can’t find). They were supposed to edit the article within a given time. Half of the group edited the text on paper, the other half did it in their word-processing tool. Guess who found more mistakes.

The group using pencil and paper found about three quarters of the mistakes, the others found barely one third. The analysis of the mistakes found showed that when you edit on your computer, you’ll almost always be limited to proofreading. Semantic mistakes, breaks in register, structural problems, and plot holes are much easier to find when you edit on paper.

That does make a powerful argument for editing a manuscript on paper, doesn’t it?

Paper Has A Superpower

When you edit on paper, you can make good use of the superpower of this medium.

Before you print, prepare like this:

  1. Change the font of your manuscript (for example, from Times New Roman to Arial) but don’t go lower than 12 pt. A new font will create a fresh look.
  2. Lines should be double-spaced. Leave a margin on the right side, about 5-6 cm wide. This will give your notes the necessary space.
  3. Make sure that scene breaks are visible. Scenes are the smallest unit of a novel or novella. Insert a blank line if needed. It’s easier to edit scene by scene.
  4. Print the manuscript on white paper, one page per sheet (don’t duplex print).

Once you’ve printed the manuscript, you can set to work. Paper lets you see the big picture.

Here’s how to reap the benefits:

  1. Fan out all the pages of a scene on your desk. On a computer, the readable section is usually just half a page of your manuscript.
  2. Check the lengths of your paragraphs. Too short? Too long? Always the same length? Even that can be boring. Variation is key.
  3. Check the white space of your manuscript. Your reader needs white space to get through the dense bits of your story.
  4. Check how often a character, symbol, or leitmotif comes up. Important motifs should reoccur.
  5. Repeat this with all your scenes. Check the lengths of your scenes. Your scenes can and should have different lengths (depending on their function). Extremely short or extremely long wouldn’t be good.

Finally, editing on paper even has a health benefit: when you do detect something, then your eyes can zoom in easily. It’s the zooming in and out that keeps your brain fresh and lets you spot more things to edit. Editing on a computer, your eyes tend to blink less, they get all dry and tired. Your attention span is shorter. But who wants to be tired if your master draft needs the final polish?

Be alert and enjoy editing!

The Last Word

I hope this post helps you to edit like a pro with its three easy steps to help you do it.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

  1. 10 Editing Errors Writers Should Avoid at All Costs
  2. 10 Editing Tips That’ll Instantly Make You a Better Writer
  3. 3 Essential Editing Tips For Writers

[Top Tip: If you need practical help with your grammar, buy The Complete Grammar Workbook]

Susanne BennettBy Susanne Bennett. Susanne  is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.

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