Use a different font
It’s a standard piece of advice, but I never truly believed in its power until I tried it for myself. I know it sounds strange, but it felt as though the manuscript I was reading had been written by someone else. All its faults and clunky phrases stood out, and I felt no pain in cutting them.
Listen to your manuscript being read by software
If you can bear to do it, have your manuscript read back to you by your computer. The voice is so monotonous that any phrases you were previously proud of will now make you cringe, and it shows how much your writing is depending on the inflection of the reader.
Get a fresh opinion
If you have someone who is willing to read your manuscript, preferably not a close friend or family member, use them. Give them a feedback form to help guide their responses. Listen to what they have to say. Especially listen for what they didn’t understand. When there is a mismatch between what they read and what you wrote, you haven’t written it clearly enough.
Be prepared to make as many passes as it takes
When editing, the list of changes and things to check can be endless and overwhelming. Sometimes it’s best to make one fix at a time, rather than trying to do everything at once. Why juggle ten balls when you could focus on just one?
If you get tired of the manuscript (usually around the third read through), give it a rest and work on a different project for a while. There’s no point in trying to edit a piece of work when you just want to be done with it. That’s when things get sloppy.
Print out a copy of your manuscript
Just like changing the font, reading from a printed copy is a completely different experience to reading from the screen. Mistakes are far easier to pick up, as are purple prose and those pesky modifiers. Plus, there’s something quite satisfying about taking red ink to the page.
I’ve taken to filing my current manuscript in my old dissection folder, because that is your task as an editor—to dissect the text.
Be prepared for the butterfly effect
When you make a small change early on in your manuscript, its ramifications can spread throughout the story and amplify towards the end. Sometimes what seems to be the smallest change in the first chapter can lead to a total rewrite of the last quarter of the book. If the change will make your manuscript stronger, be prepared to put in the time and effort to not only make that initial change, but to follow it through all the way to ‘The End’.
And if you ever think that something might possibly need changing, it definitely needs changing.