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So you have spent hours, days or even months and have finished your first draft. You know that someone else needs to read your work. But there are things you can do which will save your editor a lot of grief and potentially keep more of your own money in your pocket (especially if they are being paid by the hour). Besides, we know that one-draft affairs are the stuff of myth. Why not take action and put a little more in before you release it?

This is also the case if you are a student or a teacher. As a teacher, my heart drops a little when students hand in work which they haven’t even read themselves. Poorly edited work leaves a bad taste and says a lot about a student’s desire to want to improve their writing.


Photographic credit: Blake Perosh © 2016

“I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

— Truman Capote

Here are my five top editing techniques you can use to “fix” a lot of errors before others are needed to read your work:


It has been my experience that in the middle of writing, ideas for improvement ebb and flow. I’ve paid for the times I did not momentarily stop and jot down that idea before continuing with writing. Quite simply, I forgot what needed re-examination once my draft was complete.

Your “To-do” list will vary too. It can include things such as fixing up dialogue passages, overuse of a particular phrase or word, something more structural like examining when a character should appear or disappear, correcting the pace of a portion of text, rewriting a chapter.

The good news about this is you make an immediate impact on your manuscript. You can go back straight away and fix things that will save your editor or teacher time.


I remember having a conversation with an established poet a few years back when I was trying to get him to read my work. The short conversation went something like this:

ME:        I’ve finished writing some poems and I think they’re the best ones I’ve written. I’d love to know what you think.
HIM:      When did you write them?
ME:        A few days ago. I’ve since gone back and edited them.
HIM:      (After a lengthy pause). A few days is nothing. You don’t need me to look at your work yet. You need to leave them alone for a few months at least. I am going to read you a poem (perhaps one of my finest) I wrote over a year ago. Don’t be in a rush. Time creates objectivity. You’ll see what needs fixing if you rest your work.

It was a fine lesson in editing from someone who had been writing, editing and publishing longer than I had been alive. What’s amazing is that it works. There is truth to letting a manuscript rest so that you can. We need to break away from what we’ve created so that when we are reunited with it, we can cast a more objective eye over things. The emotive attachment has been weakened. Lines you thought were amazing might have lost their lustre. But if it’s good or has potential, you’ll be in a better position to massage it closer into the shape you need it to be in.

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Photographic credit: Justine Forrest © 2016 http://justineforrest.com.au/


I’m not going to apologise for this piece of advice coming from another author. But that’s okay, because he received it from an editor.

When we read from a screen or off a piece of paper we compensate by making up for what isn’t there. It is a similar process when we read a novel or non-fiction when we don’t know what a word means. We use the semantic clues around the word to contextualise and take a stab at its meaning.

The same can be said for our own work. Reading something aloud verbatim with a pen or pencil in hand is worthwhile. Listen for several things: any word which does not fit, even if you tried to push a new word into a sentence; words which have been omitted in the rush of writing; inconsistencies with rhythm and pace due to punctuation errors; needless repetition of a word.

If you don’t trust yourself to read precisely what is there, then use a text-to-speech app or program which will do it for you. All you need to do is listen.

“First drafts are for learning what one’s fiction wants him to say. Revision works with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to reform it. Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.”

— Bernard Malamud


This is where you take a step back and do some tracing across your entire manuscript. I will often use a lot of questions here as a guide: Examine character X. Do they behave as they should given their motivation? Am I content with how I’ve represented them in this section? Is their speech reflective of their personality? Have they grown as I intended?

This type of analysis should apply to your characters, setting, plot, conflict, motifs. After writing your first draft, you can expect that large things may be askew. Best to fix them before giving your work to someone else.


This is the opposite of my previous point. This is a laborious task, but when combined with the above processes, will make your work stronger. This is a sentence by sentence task. The overriding questions here are: Is this sentence saying what I really mean? The other questions I ask myself at this stage is: Am I overwriting? Where is the fat? How can I tighten this? Is this sentence necessary at all?


If you’re a teacher and you’d like a great free resource on using these advanced editing techniques in the classroom, follow this link:


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Photographic credit: Justine Forrest © 2016 http://justineforrest.com.au/

I hope this has been helpful and you can take away some editing tools. Put your best sandled foot forward! Thanks again for reading,


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