No, you don't have to be the best at grammar. Word (or whatever grammar checker you're using) will catch most of your mistakes. Word will also catch your spelling mistakes. It'll even determine if you're using the wrong word sometimes. Don't trust Word.
Why? Because con is still a word even if you mean can. Bee is still a word if you mean be. There is a distinct difference between definitely and defiantly but they're both still words. There's also a huge distinction between six and sex. Word won't catch repetitiveness like constantly using "that", "just", "really", "thing", "in order", or any other word on the Words to be Wary of list. It doesn't even know the difference between weary and wary. It might not even notice you've left the "r" out in "your." And there are some instances when Word is wrong when it comes to grammar.
Yes your editor will catch all the above mistakes and yes it is what you pay them for. But you don't want your editor to get caught up in minor mistakes YOU could have caught when you want them focusing more on the larger picture. You want them to take your manuscript BEYOND your capabilities. You want them to tighten sentences and make suggestions with your voice or showing and telling. You don't want them focusing on minor mistakes. Pay them for being a second set of eyes, yes, but let them be a set of eyes used to their full potential.
So, how does one self-edit? Read over Words to be Wary of. Then go into your document and hit Ctrl+F or "Find." A window will appear. Now type in the word "that." When it finds the first "that", read over the sentence then REMOVE THE WORD or REPLACE IT. Repeat this process with the words:
- in order
- thing (usually replaced with an object the "thing" is describing)
- get or got
- -ing words
- a lot
- kind of/sort of
Why out loud? Because your brain will force you to pay attention to every word. You won't automatically put in a word that might be missing and you're "hear" if something doesn't sound right.
Go back to your document and correct any changes. Go back to the top of your document and hit the "Show/Hide hidden characters." This button will show paragraph marks, spaces, tabs, and every other hidden character in your document. Why is this important? Sometimes at the end of a sentence you'll have hit a "soft" return instead of a hard return. So, instead of a new paragraph with a line in between, you'll have a new paragraph with NO space. You cannot visually see the difference until your book goes through formatting to be put on Kindle, Kobo, or any other website. The paragraph tag that should be at the end of every sentence looks like this:
You should also only have ONE space between each word, not two. The space between words is shown by a dot running along the middle of your word, kind of like a strike through. It looks like this:
If you have two dots then take one out. Besides your paragraph tags and space tags THERE SHOULD BE NO OTHER hidden characters. If there are: delete them and fix your document accordingly.
Go back to the top of your document again and read it from the beginning. This time make note of the story itself and anything you may have accidently changed like a character's name or eye color. Make sure a character wasn't holding an object and suddenly wasn't holding it (without putting it down) in the next sentence. Make sure a character isn't defying the laws of physics as in taking a seat on the edge of the desk when she was all ready sitting in a chair. Look for any awkward turns of phrases or sentences. Repair it all.
Now, leave it ALONE for a week or more. Go plan for your next novel, start a new one, edit something else, or read. Binge watch a show on Netflix, ANYTHING but DO NOT read your novel for at least a week. Once the week is over: start from the beginning of your document and read through it YET AGAIN.
How many read-throughs should you do? One for spelling. One for grammar. One for the words on the Words to be Wary of list. One for misused or improper words. One for sentence structure. One for hidden characters (as in the symbols not actual people in your novel). One for consistency. Once out loud. One more time after a period of time that you've left it alone.
That's nine times. I know it seems like a lot but your editor will be able to do a MUCH better job if you've read over your manuscript before sending it to them. Plus you won't have to pay them three or more times because they need to read over your novel nine times. Remember, the less they have to do, the more they can focus on your actual STORY.
Yes, it is a lot. But you can combine the read-through for spelling and grammar. If you're great you can also combine misused words, sentence structure, repetitive or unneeded words, spelling, and grammar. If you're excellent: you would have all read done those five while you're writing.
That's the key to self-editing: KNOWING the rules so well you can correct your mistakes AS YOU ARE WRITING. You will get to the point where the words on the Words to be Wary of list no longer exist in your writing vocabulary. You will get to the point where you'll know you've used the wrong word but you know to correct it before moving on to the next sentence.
What's this mean? You're working with your Inner Editor and NO it's not a bad thing. I know a lot of people say to turn off this inner critic when working on the first draft but why bother? If you're constantly shutting it off than you can't learn to get better and make a tighter, more concise first draft. I've got a whole blog post about the Inner Editor. I know the post is old but I still agree with everything there.
We've reached "The End" multiple times in our document. Now what? You find an editor to do the rest. How do you find an editor? I've touched on it briefly here. Read that whole post. Yes, it IS what you're getting yourself into.
Until next time: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comments section.