How to Self-Edit Your Book

"It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly."
– C. J. Cherryh

Let's do this as systematically as we can. Once you have finished writing the book, give yourself a break. A month is not bad. Then get back. Not to the book, but to a one-page synopsis of the book -from your memory. No re-reading. It would seem tough, but do it. Then boil it down to one para. It would seem impossible, but hang on, we want you to boil it down to one line – two lines at max. Now, only now will you find the essence of the book. When you get back to it, you’d be ready to weed out the meanderings unless, of course, they are the essence of your book!

Then, only then, get down to what they teach at editing classes:
  1. Shorten sentences. Inserting a period into a long sentence cut its fog index in half.
  2. Take out the trash. Remove meaningless and unnecessary phrases inserted in the sentences.
  3. Deflate fat words. Most longer words consist of prefixes and suffixes grafted onto shorter roots. Get rid of the accretions, and watch the words sparkle.
  4. Reduce negatives. Every negation inserts a layer of opaqueness. Multiple negatives increase the difficulties exponentially.
  5. Eliminate the equations. Almost every use of the verb “to be” lowers the energy of the sentence a bit. Equating verbs reduce the energy level to zero. Find the real action in the sentence, and turn that word into a verb.
  6. Activate the passives. Passive verbs create passive readers. But all passive verbs started life as active transitive verbs. Convert them back again to increase energy and vitality.
  7. Lead with strength. Find the sentence, paragraph, or illustration that will best grab and hold the reader’s attention. Move it to the beginning. Shuffle the rest of the material as necessary.
  8. Tune up topic sentences. Old style paragraphing turns people off. Start a new paragraph every time you shift to a new point of view, and use the topic sentence to keep the thread of meaning flowing.

(Jim Taylor’s “Eight Step Editing”)

Don’t try to tackle all the steps at once. You would have to work through the text several times.  Each pass, preferably with a time lapse, adds a new dimension to the book.