You’re putting the finishing touches on your manuscript. Spell check gives you a gold star. Microsoft Word’s grammar checker doesn’t flag any problems.

But is your manuscript any good?

Every book I write, my goal is for the copyeditor to say, “That’s the cleanest manuscript I’ve ever seen!”

A clean manuscript brings joy to your copyeditor and, ultimately, gives you more control. I love copyeditors, but they tend to go on a slash and burn expedition through your words when you give them too much leeway.

Clean manuscripts build trust with your copyeditor, and, ultimately, your reader.

Plus, it just feels good to be told you’re a good writer. On a handful of occasions, I’ve been given those magic words.

Today, I’m going to share some self-editing shortcuts to help nudge you toward that goal.

This is the sixth installment in our series,
“Seven Essential Strategies to Finish Your Manuscript in 2020.”

Here are the previous five:

Essential Key #1: Remove Your Distractions

Essential Key #2: Practice Self-Discipline

Essential Key #3: Follow Your Body Rhythms

Essential Key #4: Take Advantage of Writing Tools to Save Time

Essential Key #5: Hire a Coach to Finish Strong

As a reminder, to help you hit your writing goal this year, our staff is offering free no-obligation consultations through the end of the year.

A number of you have taken us up on this offer. Brainstorming book ideas is a hoot for us, so please don’t feel intimidated. Click on the links below:

Mike Klassen Schedule NOW

Larry Yoder Schedule NOW

Karen Bouchard Schedule NOW

In less than three weeks, we mercifully pass into 2021. So, let’s jump in with some self-editing shortcuts to help you finish your manuscript THIS YEAR:

Shortcut #1. Weed out wordy phrases.

The late, great author, Theodore Geisel, once wrote:

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

You probably know him by his pen name: Dr. Seuss. He’s sold a ton of books.

His point? Strong writing is lean writing. Wordy writing frustrates your reader and compels them to close your book, never to return again.

Here are some vague or unnecessary words and phrases that drive your readers crazy:

  • Thing
  • In my opinion
  • Just
  • Really
  • Thing
  • I think
  • Very
  • Awesome
  • I remember
  • A lot
  • Got
  • Thing
  • Very
  • Like
  • In my opinion
  • I remember
  • Thing

My shortcoming is the word “that.” Every time I finish writing a chapter, blog post, sometimes even an email, I run through my writing one more time to eliminate every errant “that”.

I once edited a chapter that used the word “thing” fourteen times. You can’t get more vague than “thing.”

Don’t do that.

Be heartless when destroying unnecessary words. Ask yourself, Do I really need that word in the sentence?

Shortcut #2. Fire the “to be” verb whenever possible.

What’s the worst way to begin a manuscript? Starting with “There are” or “There is.” I never, ever, ever begin an introduction or a chapter with those words.

The “to be” verb is the weakest verb in the English language. “Am,” “are,” “is,” “were,” and “was” qualify as verbs, but they don’t really tell you anything about the action.

The most important element in the sentence is the verb.

Sometimes you can’t avoid them, but if you can, do it!

Shortcut #3. Kill the passive voice.

The ugly step-cousin of the “to be” verb, a passive verb rears its ugly head when the subject receives the action rather than doing it.

Active voice:

“She ate the cake.”

“He’s running a marathon.”

“I am waiting for a phone call.”

Passive voice:

“The cake was eaten by the girl.”

“The fish was caught by the bear.”

“The books were collected by him.”

Notice that “was” or “were” appear in passive sentences? Other culprits include “have” and “had”.

In the passive voice you would say, “The prisoner got caught by the guards.”

The prisoner is the subject of the sentence, and the guards are the object. In the active voice, this would be reversed – but the meaning would remain the same: “The guards caught the prisoner.”

Sometimes, passive verbs need to appear in your writing, but if at all possible, stay away.

Shortcut #4. Avoid clichés.

A good friend once asked me to take a gander at his manuscript. The first sentence in his book began with these words:

“When all is said and done…”

That’s the day I started losing my hair—and look at me now!! Nary a hair.

I physically yelled, “Noooooooo!”

Clichés became clichés because they once were easy, effective means of communicating.  But over time, they lost their power because we used them too much.

That said, I do lean on them a little when I write blog posts.

Shortcut #5. Edit from a hard copy.

I can’t explain it, I just know it works. Our brains grow accustomed to seeing the words in a particular format. Printing your manuscript will enable you to see typos and mistakes that you didn’t see before.

Shortcut #6. Read your manuscript out loud.

If you’re the self-conscious type, this will feel really weird. Whatever. Lock the door to your bedroom or office and then read your manuscript word-for-word aloud.

If it sounds awkward when you read it, your brain is telling you to re-work it. The best writing flows when you speak it out loud. When your reader reads silently, their brain is just using their “inside voice.”

If it’s important (like this post), I read it out loud.

Shortcut #7. Show don’t tell.

Don’t tell your reader about a conversation, actually show it!

The number one way to engage your readers is to tell stories—and the number one way to engage readers in a story is by employing quotation marks. Trust me, they’re your best friend in writing.

That and a thesaurus.

This is one of the biggest mistakes I see in manuscripts. (Almost) whenever possible, incorporate dialogue. In fact, I try to begin the Introduction or Chapter 1 of every book with dialogue. Nothing is more effective at pulling your reader into your manuscript.

One other tip: NEVER bury your dialogue in the paragraph. Begin your paragraph with it, and even consider making the different parts of the conversation into standalone paragraphs.

If you want to explore any of these shortcuts, make sure to reach out to us.

Happy writing!