A Checklist for Editing and Revising Your Work


Editing and revising takes your work and turns it into a masterpiece. Let's face it, even the best writers don't create a masterpiece on their first draft. I urge you to go back and look at some of your earlier work. I guarantee you'll find things that you would change if you were to write it over again. That's just the nature of writers. The more we learn, the more we are able to improve our work. Here is a checklist to aid you as you go through the editing process.

Spelling & grammar check

Your word processor most likely has a spell-check on it. Use it, but keep in mind that it will not catch all your errors. If you type “his” instead of “him,” your computer will not identify that as a mistake. As for the grammar, there are many inexpensive grammar guides for writers available today. Visit Amazon.com or your neighborhood bookstore and find something to help you.

Overuse of words & cliches

As you go through your story, pay attention to how many times you use certain words. Did you use “beautiful” three times in the same paragraph? If so, get out your thesaurus and find an alternate word. Also, avoid using cliches. There is no telling how many times publishers have read phrases like sparkled like diamonds, flat as a pancake, or stubborn as a mule. Your job as a writer is not simply to write an interesting story, but also to make it different from all the rest. Give the publishers a reason to pick your story above the other 1,000 sitting on their desks.

Overuse of adverbs & adjectives

Most adjectives and adverbs can be avoided by using stronger descriptive words. The princess isn't “very pretty,” she's “beautiful.” He didn't “run fast,” he “sprinted.” Search for strong descriptive words and leave out everything else.

Subject/verb agreement

Most of us balk at the insinuation that we might make such a blatant mistake, but the fact is that it happens. One of the easiest places to “slip” with subject/verb agreement is when a prepositional phrase separates the subject and verb. It is easy to mistakenly have your verb agree with the object of the preposition instead of the subject. As you read through your story, take the prepositional phrases out and see if your subject and verb do, in fact, agree.

Consistent tense

Another common mistake is to change tenses in the middle of the story. For example, the beginning of your story may be told in the present tense and the middle of your story in the past tense. Check to be sure that the tense of your story is consistent throughout.

Consistent Point of View

If at one point in your story, you refer to your main character as “I” and at another point, you refer to him as “He,” your reader will become confused. If you are working on your story or book in sections (as we all do), it's very easy to sit down and start writing in a different POV without even realizing it.

Unnecessary scenes or characters

Mark Twain once said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Easily said, but not easily done. As a writer, you get to know each part of your story and each character. Every part is special to you. The idea of cutting part of it out appeals to you about as much as cutting off your own arm. But the hard truth is that if the story doesn't need it, the story will be better off without it. Remember, each scene and character should serve to move the story forward. If the scene or character doesn't serve a purpose other than to take up space, the story will be better without it. As much as it hurts, cut it out.

Check your hook

You have only your first few paragraphs to catch your reader's attention (sometimes less). Make good use of your beginning. Have some friends or colleagues read your first paragraphs and give their honest feedback. Are they intrigued? Would they like to read more? Of all places to spend time during the editing process, the beginning is probably the most important. After all, if your reader doesn't make it past the beginning, nothing else matters. Some writers claim to spend the same amount of time on the first chapter as they do on the rest of the book combined. That is how important a good beginning is!

Read through your dialogue
In order for dialogue to be effective, it must be realistic. Read through just the dialogue and see if it sounds like something your character would say. Does it flow? Does it make sense? Is it age-appropriate?

Watch for the five senses
As you read through your manuscript, allow yourself to look specifically for the five senses. Mark them if you want. Evaluate if you've done a thorough job of adding the five senses and other description. Does your story seem flat and lifeless? If so, go through and add more description.

Did you finish the story?
It is important that you make sure you have completely ended your story (unless it's a series, of course). Don't leave your readers hanging. Answer all their questions. Fulfill all their desires. Wrap up all the loose ends. Have a clear ending.

Does your story have a good title?
Did you know that Dr. Seuss' book
And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected nearly 30 times? Did you also know that its original title was A Story That No one Can Beat? When Seuss changed the title of the book, he immediately found a publisher willing to publish it. The title of your story is more important than anything else. Without a good title, your book or story probably won't even make it into the hands of your reader. We've all browsed the shelves in the library or bookstore. Which books do we pick up? The ones with interesting titles. If you create a masterful work and then give it a cheesy title, all your work is in vain. Think carefully when naming your story. After all, you want to make a good first impression.

Obviously, I can't spell out each thing you need to look for. That would take forever. What I can tell you is that if you will follow these guidelines, your manuscript should be in good shape. Use the above checklist to aid you during your editing process. While some writers truly enjoy the editing process, others despise it. Whether it is enjoyable to you or not, keep in mind that you are doing it to better your story. That will help ease the pain of having to cut precious words that you spent so long crafting.


Want to know more about how to turn your writing into a finished masterpiece? The LWN ebook, Creating a World of Your Own: Your Guide to Writing Fiction, will give you step-by-step information on all of the writing process, from finding an idea to submitting your work to publications. Order your e-book today for only $19.98. Or, if you want coaching help along the way, visit LearnWriteNow.com and sign up for the fiction writing e-class.

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