How to Self-Edit Your Book Manuscript: 4 Easy Ways to Enhance Readability

A common misconception about revising a manuscript is that your work is done after the copy editing is complete. This proofreading is essential to clean grammar and clear clutter, but it also makes it possible to see ideas on the page and make stylistic and structural decisions. While copy editing offers your writing credibility and professionalism, line editing and structural editing compel people to read it. Your goal should be to lead the reader from one idea, moment, or story into the next. You can finesse this so the reader doesn’t even realize it’s happening. To strengthen your writing, follow these tips:

Keep paragraphs short. Readers are sophisticated and intuitively connect thick paragraphs to dense, dry text. They tend to steer away from long paragraphs, which they automatically perceive as wordy and complicated. Short paragraphs lend your writing energy and structure that long paragraphs don’t.

Use topic sentences. Go through your paragraphs and identify small, three-to-five sentence statements that make up a greater idea. Each of these ideas should begin with a sentence that indicates the theme of the rest of the paragraph. Those first sentences should be clear enough that readers can skim if they need to, but engaging enough they don’t want to. This is an easy way to provide clarity.

Insert mood changers. These are words that connect two ideas or sentences and cue the reader that they need to follow a thought process. Common examples include “however,” “therefore,” and “subsequently.” Best to keep it simple, though. Use “but” and “and” whenever possible—if you don’t know how to use those at the beginning of a sentence, Google will help!

Be choosy with stage directions. This is true when telling any story, but excess stage directions are a special problem for fiction writers. Stage directions are those things that a character does during a scene: they flinch, wipe their noses, cross the room, or eat a chip. Only write stage directions vital to a reader’s understanding of visual scenes or inner thoughts. If you give too many, it will slow the pacing to a crawl and the reader will become bored.

Some writers make these changes paragraph by paragraph, editing as they go. Other writers take a pen and do a read through where they don’t change anything, but simply circle areas they want to come back to and rework. Discover a process that works for you, and enjoy it! The revision process is as much a part of writing as the drafting process is.

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