Where to start? If the ream of pages in your manuscript feels overwhelming, here are three simple ways to cut the job down to size:
- Separate yourself from your work.
- Use different passes.
- Ask for help.
One of the problems with editing your own work is that our minds fill in the blanks. We often don’t spot our mistakes because our eyes see what should be on the page, not what’s actually there. The trick is to convince yourself that it isn’t your work. Time helps tremendously. If you have a week to stash your manuscript in a drawer, you’ll come back to it with fresh eyes. Even if you have only an hour before you must start editing, take it. Walk away from your work.
Other methods can help you see mistakes. First, print the manuscript out if you haven’t already. Research indicates that our minds make connections and retain more when reading pages rather than a screen. Print the manuscript on colored paper to make it look different or use a ruler to reveal one line at a time. If the manuscript isn’t too long, you can read each line backward, from right to left. That will help you focus on individual words.
Reading out loud is another useful technique. You’ll catch missing words or spelling errors. Reading aloud can also reveal repetitive or convoluted sentence structure, repetitive word choice, and unintentional rhymes.
Use Different Passes
Concentrate on a different problem to check for each time you read through a document. You’ll find what works best for you, but here’s an example of things to look for in three passes:
Don’t depend on spell-check: it will not catch homophones (e.g., "their" and "there") or mistakes such as typing “if” when you meant “in.” Also, don’t edit for too long at one sitting. Ideally, edit only one chapter at a time. If you’re pressed, then try to limit your editing to 40 to 50 pages in one sitting.
Ask for Help
The more eyes on your work, the more mistakes they’ll catch. Now is the time to solicit all the eagle eyes, nitpickers, and grammar police that you know. Ask for help from friends, colleagues, family members, or beta readers.
Following these three methods when self-editing will make your manuscript better. You’ll also be using all of your resources—time, money, and a professional editor— wisely.