Self-editing is tricky. By the time you have written, rewritten, revised and re-revised your manuscript, you are unlikely to be able to see the wood for the trees. This happens to all authors. You become so close to your creation that you can’t see the little niggly mistakes that you would be the first to notice in someone else’s work. Check out the self-editing tools and tips below and please leave your feedback on them in the comments box at the bottom of this article. If you have found any other tools useful, please share with the community.
Top 3 Self-Editing Tools
1. Word Frequency Counter & Phrase Frequency Counter (Free)
Shows you your most frequently used words and phrases.
Most authors I’ve worked with as an editor have a subconscious preference for certain words and phrases. When manuscripts are written over long periods of time, it is difficult for authors to keep track of what they’ve used a lot and what they haven’t. Simply paste your work into this free online tool then hit ‘submit’ and it will generate a report with your most used words. Obviously, you can skip through the ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘I’ and other usual suspects. Look out for heavily used adjectives and verbs that could be swapped for alternatives. When I ran this report on the last book I edited, ‘wonderful’ came up 25 times. You can easily think of alternatives for overused adjectives like this. A word of warning: don’t swing too far the other way and write, as my old English teacher would say, ‘like you’ve swallowed the thesaurus.’
The same self-editing tool also has a Phrase Frequency Counter. This is particularly good for spotting repetitive descriptions or actions. In the example below, the author could really cut down on the ‘he said’ ‘she said’ tags in dialogue to improve the flow of his work.
2. Hemmingway App (Free online or desktop version is $9.99)
Highlights adverbs, passive voice and confusing sentences as well as giving you an overall score for ease of reading.
There has been a lot of hype about this app, and whilst I wouldn’t trust it completely, it is useful from a technical edit perspective. It is just a computer at the end of the day, so it won’t understand that maybe, in certain cases, for certain stylistic reasons, you have deliberately chosen to do things a particular way. However, it is very good at giving you general feedback plus it also gives you an overall score for how easy your work is to read. The best thing about the Hemmingway app is the very simple, effective colour coding system that highlights different types of text in different colours. You can tweak your work in the app online and then paste it back in to Word when you are done (or use the desktop version).
This app will show you:
- sentences that could be shortened or split in yellow
- sentence that could be considered complicated in red
- adverbs in blue
- words that could be replaced for simpler/shorter alternatives in purple
- phrases in the passive voice (where the the subject undergoes the action instead of doing it themselves) in green e.g. ‘The song would be sung by Adele’ rather than the active voice ‘Adele would sing the song’
So, to get started with the online version, delete the sample text, paste in your own and see what the app highlights.
- First look for the blue adverbs. Adverbs are the bane of many editors’ lives. I recently did a webinar with literary consultant and editor, Britt Pflüger, who recommended that authors take all the adverbs out of their work and only put back those that are necessary. This is quite extreme, but it is definitely useful to see all your adverbs highlighted. Have a look through and think about whether they are really adding to the text, particularly around dialogue. Don’t underestimate your reader; they don’t need spoon-feeding the whole way.
- Next look out for the very complicated sentences, which are shown in red. Do you understand why they have been flagged as complicated? See if you could make the meaning clearer.
- Then look out for the passive text, which is shown in green, and see if you could make your text sharper by changing it into the active voice. This will make your work more dramatic and punchy.
The exercises above will cover the basics, but you can work through all the colours if you have time.
3. Use our list of commonly misused words. Download below.
Make sure you haven’t made silly mistakes by misusing words.
Sometimes, when you are in the middle of writing a pacy scene or have just had a great idea, you type so fast your brain can’t catch up. It’s in moments of inspiration such as these that you tend to misuse words. You are not alone, most people do this. What you want to do now is go back and in Word, run a search for each of the words on our Commonly Misused Word List and check that you’ve got it right in each case. This list is not exhaustive, but should steer you clear of the biggest offenders. Your editor will thank you for cleaning these up, trust me.
Aside from the quick and easy self-editing tools above, the following tips have been really useful for the authors we have worked with.
- Put your work away for a while before you start self-editing. Putting some distance between yourself and your work means you will be more likely to catch the mistakes.
- Read the work aloud, or use software that will read it to you, such as Wordtalk. When you have read a chapter over and over, you start to see what you think is there rather than paying attention to each word. Hearing your manuscript out loud will help you to notice to every single word and phrase.
- Cut down on tags/pronouns in your dialogue. Once the reader knows who is the in scene and understands the pattern of conversation, you don’t need to keep saying ‘he said’ ‘she asked’ ‘he replied’ etc. This actually slows your dialogue down and annoys the reader – keep an eye out for it, especially in conversations with only two speakers.
Once you feel you have done all you can with your manuscript and you need some professional advice on where the weak spots are and how you can improve it, book in for an FREE Editorial Audit below. We will ask for a sample of your work, which one of our editors will go through and give you a report detailing your strengths and weaknesses and also making suggestions for improvements you can make. You will also get a 1:1 with the editor, either over the phone or at our London office so that you have the opportunity to ask any questions. We want to help you improve your writing, so please get in touch.