Recently, I’ve been working with a new editor, and it’s completely changed how I’m looking at my books.
I’ve always been a little hit-and-miss with my edits. I can never remember how to properly use commas, what the rules are for hypens and when to capitalise things like father, officer, or the Foundation.
However, this new editor has opened my eyes to some of my worst habits. Like using filler and filter words.
To show you how much I’ve learned, and provide some tips for how I’ve dealt with this, I’m going to copy the above and edit it according to what I’ve learned. I’ve used the strikethrough feature to delete and the brackets to add:
Recently,I’ve been working with(got) a new editor, and it’s completelychanged how I ‘m looking at(edit) my books. I’ve always been a little hit-and-miss with my edits.I can(‘t) neverremember how to properlyuse commas, what the rules are forhypens and when to(or) capitalise (titles) things like father, officer, or the Foundation. However, this(My) new editor has opened my eyes to some of(revealed) my worst habits . Like using(:)filler and filter words.
Looking only at the deleted words, that is a heck of a lot of excess, right? Well, my entire book that we recently edited looked a little like this, after we’d gone through Round 1 of edits.
I thought it looked bad when I got the editor’s notes, but that was nothing compared to how it looked after I spent A WEEK going through it, searching out and deleting filter/filler words, like some editorial Pacman.
📌 A handy little tip: in OpenOffice and Word, you can go to File > Properties and it will show you the data for your file. For example, my file was edited for a total of 130:57:46 hours, and had 398 revisions. That’s how often I opened the file, saved it, made changes, and worked on these edits.
Once I was in editing mode, the fight seemed endless. I made a list of all the filter/filler words that don’t necessarily add anything to the story and began working my way through the list. Searching for each instance, reading the sentence, and deleting the word if it wasn’t strictly needed. Every time I started searching for one word, I’d find another 2-3 to add to my list.
Because I’m in the UK and my editor/publisher is American, I’ll be using US grammar rules. I’ve been using – https://www.merriam-webster.com – to help me get this right, so that when I’m not sure I can just look it up.
The list below is a compilation of words that I discovered this way, words my editor pointed out to me, and words that came in handy checklists online, that I found useful. These are words that might or might not be needed in your story, but can be edited out with some hard graft.
- that might a little
- all himself/herself seemed
- then before as though
- there really very
- up own now
- down things kind of
- so just sort of
- until whatever pretty
- only actually slowly
She also pointed out that I had a habit of using descriptive words that drew the reader out of the story. Words that should have been implied by action, that turned it from showing into telling, and could be removed with a little imagination, rewording, or cut completely:
- seemed looked turned
- appeared watched heard
- wondered spotted saw
As you can see, I began forming a list. Below is a collection of the worst offenders. I know this, because I searched my original manuscript for each word and replaced them with < (a symbol that never appeared in my book) and logged the number of changes made. I did this with each word, inserted the information into a spreadsheet, and used that spreadsheet to tell me how well my edits were going.
After each pass, I saved my manuscript under a new name, accepted all track changes and repeated this search/replace process, to get the new number, from my most recent changes. Any word that had 50 or more appearances was added to a post-it note on my desktop, as a reminder to go through that word again. If I could get each word below 50 (or 500, for the most commonly used words, such as ‘that’ and ‘all’ that could have multiple uses) I’d consider myself finished.
To triple-check my work, I ran it through Grammarly (the free version, 40 pages at a time). Whatever changes I made went straight into my track-changes. Then I saved that to a separate document and ran that through a new place I found – Hemingway Editor – which helps pinpoint hard to read sentences, run-on sentences, passive voice etc. It is SO helpful, and completely free. I just pasted the same 40 pages I used on Grammarly into their website and let it do its work. I didn’t accept *all* the changes either website suggested. I wanted to keep my own voice in tact, but accepted the ones that made sense to me at the time. Then, once finished, I copy/pasted the entire manuscript into Hemingway for a final run.
📌 Check out my How-To-Edit post, offering a list of various websites to help, as well as a How-To section for using Grammarly and Hemingway.
This is a comprehensive list of all the words I cut and/or limited in my most recent manuscript, put together once I’d finished. I hope that it helps the authors who might need a checklist on hand, who might find a word/phrase that they hadn’t thought about before, and it might help give some insight to readers as to the editing process and just how much fiddly work it takes to get a book into the shape it’s in, once it reaches their hands.
Obviously, there are instances where you need to keep certain words. Whether for clarity, understanding, the flow, or to maintain a character’s personality and voice. Or even your own voice, as an author. I could have cut another 1000 words from my manuscript if I had followed this list without remembering that. But it would have read like a clinical log-book of events. It would have lost its personality and any chance of being a readable, enjoyable story.
So, as with all “rules” and editing tips, take it with a pinch of salt. Do what works for you, what feels right and makes sense for your book.
📌 Track Changes are a great way to self-edit, if you aren’t entirely sure you want to approve them straight away. It can save you having two copies of your file (one for the “just in case you mess up” emergency). You can switch on track changes easily. I work with OpenOffice, but it should be similar no matter what you’re using (just make sure to Google for it, if you’re not sure).
Go to Edit > Changes > Record. Once you’ve clicked that, go to Edit > Changes and make sure Show is ticked. If not, click it. Then, every change you make will be tracked, and you can see it in real-time.
If you want to see how it looks with the changes in place, just go back to Edit > Changes > Show and it will stop showing them, but still track any further changes.
Voila! You have edited with track changes. At the end, when you’re done, you can go to Edit > Changes > Accept or Reject and it will give you a list of all the changes made. Click of an individual one, to view it in the file, and accept or reject them individually. Or click “accept all changes” or “reject all changes.”
I’ve included an example of how often these words can be used. This list was made while editing my upcoming book: Surviving Vihaan, Book 1: A Touch of Danger. The book was 169 pages when I submitted it, and ended up 156 (175 with track-changes) pages, due to these changes. Hopefully, this will show you how many occurrences of each word appeared in the original document, and how many were left when I returned it to my editor.
|REPEAT WORD||# BEFORE||# AFTER|
|It – sentence starter||250||266|
|Alright / all right||10||0 / 7|
|for a moment||10||2|
|back up = backup||6||0 / 4|
|in his hands||5||1|
|hook up = hookup||4||0 / 3|
|back of his head||4||1|
|all of a sudden||3||0|
|at any point||2||0|
|going to have to||1||1|
|in order to||1||0|