After however many years you’ve spent making your writing more descriptive with adjectives and adverbs, now it’s time to get rid of most of them. That’s not to say you should never use them, but ask yourself if they are necessary.
The stone sank quickly to the bottom.
Do we need the word quickly? Is it already implied by the stone sinking? Could we use a different verb (e.g. plummeted) to get the same message across in fewer words?
Adverbs are much more likely to be a problem than adjectives, but not always.
She was comforted by the friendly smiles.
Does “friendly” add anything to the sentence? Aren’t most smiles friendly?
Adjectives and adverbs can be wonderful things. There are occasionally times when a verb just doesn't say what you need it to. That's fine - words exist for a reason, and you are allowed to use them. But be wary of too many, as they will clutter up your writing and make it harder to get the point across. The Hemingway app highlights adverbs in blue. You may find it helpful to see how many it finds in your writing.
Proofreading and SPAG
A final check over SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) is one of the last parts of the editing process. There’s not much point in polishing a paragraph that will eventually be cut, but by now, you should have fixed most of the big-picture problems in your draft.
Be wary of spell check. MS Word has a terrible sense of grammar, and spell check won’t pick up on the times you might have used the wrong word - e.g. defiantly instead of definitely.
You’ve probably caught most of the SPAG problems in your last few edits, but here are some specific things to watch out for:
- Their, they’re, there.
- You’re vs. your
- Its vs. it’s (hint: try making “it” a boy. He’s = it’s. His = its.)
- who’s vs. whose
- who vs. that
- then vs. than
- compliment vs. complement
- Capital letters for all proper nouns, not just names
- Full stops.
- Sentence fragments (every sentence needs a verb)
- Semicolons - to separate two independent clauses. You should be able to put a full stop there instead.
- Tense changes
- Incomplete comparisons (e.g. “my car is faster”. Than what?)
- Apostrophes - to indicate possession (John’s car) or contractions (don’t), NOT for plurals (apples)
- Affect vs. effect
When you’ve done all the editing you can, it’s time to get fresh eyes on your work. Use the feedback form (found here) to hand out to a few people whose opinion you trust. You don’t have to use that particular form, but it’s important to ask people to be specific about what they did and didn’t like.
Don’t change anything until you’ve heard from a few different people. A problem that every reader points out needs to be fixed. A problem that only one or two readers find might not be a problem - it’s up to you as the writer to decide whether you agree with them or not. I can tell that my work is ready to send out into the world when all my reviewers disagree with each other!
When you’ve done ALL of that, put your story away somewhere safe and think about something different. Write something else. Read a new book. Look over your work one last time before submitting it, but now that you’ve learnt how to edit, you have to learn how to stop editing! You’re done. Go enjoy a break.