Preparation for Self-Editing

The first step of your Self-Editing will be rereading your manuscript slowly and deliberately looking at every word. You'll need a few tools.

A physical dictionary is acceptable, but on-line access is far more efficient.

True story: A politician, in the midst of a soaring endorsement, declared a compatriot, "a mendacious individual of the highest order." Sounds breathtaking and inspiring... except... mendacious means he's a habitual liar, and while the statement was true, it wasn't the speaker's intention to out him. He liked the sound of the word, but was ignorant of it.

You may have some words in your lexicon that you rarely use—perhaps never in daily conversation—that you introduce to spice up your exposition or dialogue because they sound impressive, but... are you sure of their precise meaning?
  • Are you using the word literally correctly?
  • A factoid is not a small fact.
  • Flammable versus inflammable?
  • Irony? Ultimate? Nauseous versus nauseate?
Look them up.

Like a dictionary, a physical thesaurus is helpful, but on-line access is so much easier you're likely to use it more often.

How many times do you have a character walk across the room? Why not stroll, stomp, saunter, strut? lists 25 synonyms for walk, and 12 for walking. Here's the 56 synonyms for walked.

Word Frequency Counter

You'll want to find how many times you've used common words such as the various forms of walk so you can substitute synonyms for them. The simplest way to make that determination is to use a word frequency counter, a program that scans your document and reports the number of times words occur. You'll find words whose high frequency in your manuscript is unexpected.

I ran a sample document. The program outputs the results in a text file that is easily loaded into Excel for analysis:
Only the top 6 of 5,776 words are shown here, but there are two glaring issues. Was and that are highly overused. There are numerous alternatives to these two words that would geatly improve the manuscript. The signifiance of this will be discussed in Self-Editing.

What's important is that you use one. Google: "Word Frequency Counter." Some are free, others have trial subscriptions so you can try them out before purchasing. After a free trial, I purchased
Hermetic which reads directly from MSWord files.

Return to Stage II - Self-Editing - Word Frequency


Every day questions are posted on various writers' forums asking simple questions that are 0.06 seconds away from being answered by Google.

There are a few caveats:
  • Always check the source of information you may use.
  • Discern fact from opinion.
  • Not all opinion is bad. Sort fact-based from wild-eyed opinions.
  • Be very careful regarding unintential plagiarism.
  • Keep a record of the source of your facts. Maintain a single word processor file, "WorkingTitle_Research," for example, and cut, paste, and append to the document any information you use in your work. Cut and paste the URL of the answer, too:
Because the information provided by Google is so extensive, be cautioned against over-explaining things in your manuscript solely because you found it enthralling.

Word Processor

There are a number of programs and writer's helpers available on-line and as downloadable programs. This list, in no particular order, is a result of a query I put out in a writer's forum asking what programs forum participants use in whole or in part: Scrivener, Grammerly, Google Docs, Dabble, Evernote, PWA, ProWriter, Hemingway, Apache OpenOffice and Microsoft Word.

I use MSWord and suggest it solely becauses when you're working with an editor, as you must at some point, they are going to markup your manuscript using MSWord and MSWord's Review function, Track Changes.

Any programs that can save to MSWord's .DOC or .DOCX file format and simulate Track Changes is acceptable.

To be sure, you can compose with pad and pencil or on an iPhone, but as you move closer to the realm of submission to an agent, publisher, or self-publication, you're going to have to adopt the industry standard: MSWord.

Find and Replace: Absolutely Essential to Editing

Other than Cut & Paste, Find & Replace is one of the most important functions of a word processor.

Find & Replace is used to find a word or phrase anywhere within your document. If it occurs more than once, it will find all the occurances of that word or phrase. Further, it can replace an individual occurance, allow you to selective replace some, or globally replace every occurance of that word or phrase in the document with another word or phrase.

Find & Replace is initiated by pressing CTRL-F on a PC or Command-F on a MAC

If you are not using MSWord, now is the time to consult your user's manual, on-line help, or your neighbor's 16-year-old kid to become familiar with the specifics of your word processor or writing program. The examples that follow are MSWord, Office 365.

One space or two? A practical application of Find & Replace

Perhaps you were told you should have two spaces after a period. You're well into your manuscript and discover, that's not true. [Aside: if it were true at one time, it's not now; publishers want only one space, and it's non-negotiable.]

How do you fix a hundred pages of double spaces? With a single command, find all the double spaces replacing them with a single space. Done. Because there should be no occurances of a double space anywhere other than after the period, there's no chance of introducing unintentional errors.

A look at Find & Replace in MSWord

  • Press CTRL-F
  • A dialog box will open prompting you to enter the word or phrase (1). The search term is lay.
  • In this version of MSWord, click on the tiny gray arrow (2) for the pull-down
  • Select Options (3).
  • Select Find Whole Words Only (4)

By setting up Find & Replace this way, you can find lay without cluttering up the results list with delay, play or other words that have the target word embedded within. Once entered, it will highlight all the occurances of that word or phrase throughout the document.


Mention of products, including MSWord which is used in the examples, does not constitute an endorsement. This information is provided for your convenience and it is strongly recommended that you do your own research into the applicability, usability, stability, reliability, and affordability of these systems for your purposes.

Stage I: part 3
Stage II- Self-editing
How to Write a Novel
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  Stage I, page 3
Writing Intermezzo I
  Preparation for Self-Editing
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