I finished a rough draft last week - a 108,xxx word novel I started during last year's NaNoWriMo.
Normally, I like to step away from a project before editing, but I decided to do some initial passes before setting it aside. Putting some distance between you and and a newly finished work is always a good idea, as I felt like it always recalibrated my perspective on it.
My first steps in editing are pretty simple: GET RID OF THE GARBAGE. Just from making my initial pass, I've cut 1,000 words so far.
What's garbage? It's a list of stuff:
1) Crutch words. These are words that I personally use too much. For a lot of writers, these crutch words include: that, really, just, suddenly, almost, nearly, felt (or his ugly cousin felt like) seems, could (could see, could feel, could - could - and MORE could), and for a moment.
My personal issue is when I use that instead of the proper relative pronoun. I do this A TON!
He was the man that knew everything. (Wrong)
He was the man who knew everything. (Right)
2) Crutch dialog tags or gestures. Are your characters doing a lot of head nodding, shaking, shrugging, shuddering, smiling, laughing, swallowing hard, catching their breath, gazing, and glancing? Nothing is wrong with using these sparingly, but take a look and see if you're overusing them. Sometimes, you can get rid of the gesture entirely and use dialog to give a vivid picture to your reader. You can also be a little more creative, just don't overwrite it!
Don't have your novel read like stage directions. Allow room for your reader to use your imagination. No need to spell every little gesture out. It gets distracting. If the gestures or character actions do nothing to move things forward, then don't write it. Unless it's vital I know a character takes a bite out of a sandwich, taking a swig of their tea, or whatever...get rid of it.
3) Adverbs. Anything with -ly at the end is a red flag. I will keep some, but maybe 90% of them go. Why? Because using ADVERBS is lazy writing. I learned this from Stephen King and my years as a freelance editor. It's a short cut that doesn't allow the reader to get engaged.
4) Passive voice. I search for forms of "to be," the most common being was or were. Passive voice is weak, and again, boring and disengaging for your reader. If the subject of your sentence is being acted upon, that's a big hint you've got passive voice going on.
John was pushed by the wind. (Passive)
The wind pushed John. (Active)
5) Wordy suffixes. Anything with a -ness or -ize at the end of a word is going to be examined. Many times, suffixes are not necessary. Writers often add suffixes like -ness to a perfectly good word. I don't get rid of all of them, but I do zap most of them. They're unnecessary and make the reader stumble. Make sure you editize in order to get your manuscript to a higher level of perfectness.
These are easy and quick fixes I make during a first pass. If I see other stuff that needs more involved editing, I do it if I happen to see it. The FIND function in your word processor is your best friend.
Do you have any CRUTCH words or gestures you find yourself leaning on too often in your work?
Blogging since 2005.
Medical sales warrior by day, writing ninja by night...
I am the author of The Mechanica Wars series. The first book, Dragonfly Warrior, will be published in January, 2014 by 4 Wing Press.
I love science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, biographies, and chocolate chip cookies.