Five Editing Tips That Work for Me

Trudging through the revisions for my YA mystery, I’ve used five editing tips that work for me and hopefully will help you through this exasperating and rewarding process.

Edit in small chunks of time.

When I sit down to micro-edit, which is the analysis of each word to make sure it’s pulling its full weight, I have to set a time limit. I find the micro-edit so brain draining that I can’t keep it up for long. If I work for longer than an hour, I’m not nearly as focused or imaginative. I’ll gloss over sections just to say I’ve reviewed them. I take a half hour break before I do another round of micro-editing.

Keep a thesaurus or Google handy.

I have a tendency to use certain words over and over when I’m writing my first draft. In chapter six, my characters may have “looked” four times. I need to find synonyms. Or determine if all of the characters really need to “look” all those times. Maybe they should use a different action.

When editing becomes a chore, change it up.

Because my novel is 90,000 words, I’ve been editing on my computer and was beginning to dread the process. My usual practice is to print a copy, make edits on the paper, and put the corrections into the computer. My eyes have been suffering from a lot of strain because of all the screen time. So recently, I printed sections of my novel. Editing from paper rejuvenated my creativity, making me want to renew my editing efforts.

Check the first word of every paragraph on a page.

This is a trick I learned from agent Cyle Young. He said that, ideally, the first word of every paragraph on a page should be different. Often, that’s impossible for me, since I write in first person. But the technique slows me down as I edit and forces me to analyze the structures of my sentences, helping me create a vary their length and style.

Too many of my paragraphs start like this:

I sighed, running my hand through my hair.

If it makes sense and doesn’t hurt the flow of my narrative, I reverse it:

Running my hand through my hair, I sighed.


Sighing, I ran my hand through my hair.

Check dialogue tags.

I have a lot of dialogue as my teen detective investigates who is leaving threatening notes at her apartment. I check to make sure every “said” is needed. Does “said” work in a particular situation or is an action tag better?

“I don’t know,” he said.

Might be better if it was:

“I don’t know.” He flung our his arms.


“I don’t know.” He fingered his mustache.

Action tags are often better than “said” but not always. Too much action, and readers can’t imagine all the movements the characters are performing.

Action tags also detract from certain conversations. When my teen detective has a serious discussion with her father, I let the dialogue carry the scene as much as I could, dropping in action tags only so readers are grounded in the scene and can keep straight who’s speaking.

What editing tips have worked for you?

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