Eight Quick Editing Hacks

It’s always a good idea to take time with editing. Giving your manuscript time to rest and breathe before returning to it with a critical eye can work wonders. Deadlines will not wait, however, and sufficient time may not always be available. That’s when editing hacks come in handy!

This post lists eight of my favorite editing hacks, four for deleting extraneous words and four for catching typos. Each of these editing hacks is painless and intended to help you apply a final layer of polish to your writing before you send it out into the world.

Four Quick Style Hacks with Ctrl+F

Find + delete quantitative adverbs.

This especially applies to Americans, who tend to use quantitative adverbs to add color and rhythm to their speech. Unfortunately, these adverbs don’t often translate well into writing, and they can usually be deleted without affecting the meaning of the sentence. “A lot” and “a bit” are common, as are “only” and “very.”

Crtl+f + ly.

This will help you catch quantitative adverbs like “really” and “completely” and “extremely.” I’m a big fan of adverbs, which add texture and flavor to writing, but many writers tend to have a few specific adverbs they overuse in their initial drafts. Searching for all instances of “ly” in your manuscript is a great way to rein them in.

Find + delete words for facial expressions.

“Smile,” “smirk,” “chuckle,” and “sigh” are some of the common ones. There’s nothing wrong with these words, of course, but many younger writers tend to overuse them. Instead of describing what’s happening on someone’s face, it’s often more effective to convey emotion through action or dialog. You can usually delete words that describe facial expressions or tone of voice without hindering the reader’s understanding of the situation.

Find + delete academic transition words.

I’m referring to words like “therefore,” “moreover,” “conversely,” and so on. Although these words can help you structure your ideas as you write, few people use them outside the context of academic papers. This applies to fiction, obviously, but it’s also relevant to nonfiction that you’re pitching or submitting to an editor at a website, newspaper, or magazine. Many people cultivate a habit of using formal transition words while learning to write in high school and college, and unlearning this habit is a process. In the meantime, ctrl+f can help you weed out any holdovers from academic writing.

Four Editing Hacks for Catching Typos

Apply a different font.

This is common advice, as changing the font of your text can trick your eyes into seeing typos that you would have glossed over otherwise. I have to admit that this has never been effective for me. This is what works instead…

Copy and paste your work into a different word processing program.

If changing the font is too superficial, it may be more effective to change the entire text field. I write in MS Word and Scrivener, but I like to copy and paste my manuscripts into Google Docs for two reasons. First, it’s free; and second, it doesn’t mess with the text formatting. As an added bonus, Google’s grammar check has become remarkably sophisticated during the past two years. Sometimes it’s dead wrong, but sometimes it will surprise you with an excellent suggestion. Free grammar check websites such as Slick Write can also be useful. You may not need help with grammar, but a “copy and paste your writing into the text field” site like Slick Write can point out passive voice, frequently occurring words, and other stylistic issues that it can be easy to miss if you’re on a deadline.

Send the text of your writing to yourself in the body of an email or post it onto a private blog.

Some people swear by the email method, which allows you to read your writing with fresh eyes on a different screen. Unfortunately, there are times when my own email inbox gives me anxiety, and I’m sure this experience is relatable to anyone dealing with deadlines or a high volume of correspondence. Instead of using email, you can set up a private blog (on Dreamwidth, for example) and post your writing as an entry. If it helps to maintain separate spaces for different writing projects, you can set up as many journals as you want and delete them when you’re ready to move on. A few of my nonfiction writer friends tell me that they do this with wiki software, but your mileage may vary.

Use a free text reader tool like NaturalReader or Voice Dream.

Many writers read their text aloud to check for typos, but this is time-consuming and not feasible for people who write in shared spaces. Although text readers are still far from perfect, they’ve gotten much better over the past few years. Commercial text readers offer a range of natural voices, but my own experience is that listening to a slightly mechanical voice read your writing makes typos stand out more than they would in a human voice. NaturalReader is easy to use and works well in a desktop browser window, while the Voice Dream app is good if you prefer to listen from your phone.

All of these hacks are designed for spot checks once you already have an edited manuscript. I’m curious if anyone has any quick and easy strategies that they use to edit manuscripts (fiction or nonfiction) at an earlier stage. Also, if you’ve created a short list of “find and delete” filler words that you’d be willing to share, I’d love to see it!

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This post originally appeared on Get Your Words Out, a community of writers aiming to maintain healthy creative habits and writing productivity. Membership to the community opens at the beginning of the calendar year. Its content is limited to members who maintain their writing pledges, but the GYWO Twitter account is accessible to everyone and posts encouragement, prompts, and writing resources at a steady but manageable pace.

The Demon King Reboot

Around this time last year, I finished an original fantasy novella called The Demon King. I serialized it on AO3, posting each chapter as I wrote it with a minimum of editing. This year I’ve been slowly editing the story into a legitimate novel. The process has been a lot of fun, but I’ve had to make some major changes.

I originally planned to serialize The Demon King in five arcs. The outline of the story was structured for each arc to focus on one character while providing the reader with one major revelation. I wanted there to be something resembling a punchline at the end of every scene, so I wrote the story as a comedy centered on character interactions. In other words, I saw The Demon King as something like an ongoing prose webcomic illuminated with occasional illustrations. AO3 isn’t a good platform for a project like this, however, and it was impossible to build an audience. I therefore closed the story at the end of the first arc.

In the original version of the story, I deliberately left room for the plot to spool out across later installments. In order to write a proper novel, however, I need to make the structure more streamlined and compact.

My strategy has been to simplify the plot in order to focus on the most important themes and character development arcs. The easiest way to go about this has been to remove half of the cast from the story. This was relatively painless, as I’m sure these characters will return in another project.

Another efficient way to simplify the story has been to make certain aspects of the plot clear from the beginning. A major component of this was to drop the conceit of the main characters going by multiple names. In the first draft, the eponymous demon king called himself “Balthazar” because he thought it sounded like a wizard name, and the characters closely associated with Balthazar humored him by using wizard names of their own. I decided to cut the plot points relevant to Balthazar using a fake name; so, in the current draft of the story, he goes by his real name, Ananth.

Ananth uses time magic, which needs to be clear from the beginning. The extent of the time travel will only be revealed gradually, but it will make my job infinitely easier if the reader sees Ananth using time magic in the very first chapter. Not only does this explain a number of aspects of his character that would otherwise be needlessly mysterious, but it also creates a compelling sense of mystery by providing opportunities for the reader to understand that Ananth is in fact very bad at using magic. Given that his only real talent is a basic ability to manipulate time, how did he become so powerful? Where (or when) did he come from, and what are his intentions?

While Ananth’s character has changed significantly, his foil Ceres hasn’t changed much at all. Ceres is her real name, and she’s not hiding anything by being catty and manipulative; that’s just her personality. The one significant edit I made is that Ceres is no longer a princess, but a queen. Then again, this isn’t much more than a matter of using the “find and replace” function to switch a few words, as Ceres was always a queen in my heart.

In any case, I’ve succeeded in compacting the story outline from fifty chapters into a solid thirty, and I’ve managed to finish the first ten. I enjoyed serializing fanfic novels on AO3 because of the constant stream of positive feedback and encouragement, so the major challenge of writing an original novel has been working in relative isolation. It was difficult to get started on revising this project, and it’s been slow going. Still, now that I know the shape of the story, I have a better sense of working toward an achievable goal.

The illustration above is by @Lunie_junk on Twitter, who also shares her work on DeviantArt (here) and on her Patreon page (here). I love Lunie’s Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy art, and I’m a huge fan of her soft pastel style and colorful fantasy illustrations. She takes character commissions on a regular basis, and I recommend checking her out on her Carrd page (here) if you’re interested. I adore the story illustration Lunie created for me, and I really enjoyed working with her!

The Demon King Editing Notes

Starting in April, I’m going to begin putting together a formal query letter for The Demon King. I’d like to participate in the #PitMad event on Twitter at the beginning of June, and I’d also like to finish up this portion of the project so that I can go ahead and get started on the next novella in the series.

If you’re interested, this is my fifty-word Twitter pitch:

The Demon King is a high fantasy adventure comedy about a garbage wizard named Balthazar who seeks to claim a magical relic sleeping within the castle of a powerful and devious princess. Until then, he would prefer to be left alone so he can read trashy romance novels in peace.

I’m going to put the first novella through another round of intense editing in May, but I just wrapped up the initial set of major edits. I’ve been fixing typos and other minor second-draft awkwardness, but I’ve also been thinking about tone and structure, as well as how I relate to the genre of fantasy in general.

Although this will change as the story progresses, the beginning of The Demon King is largely an episodic comedy that plays with tropes from epic fantasy novels and video games. Instead of exaggerating or subverting these tropes, I’m interested in looking at them from the perspective of rational adult characters who fit their assigned archetypes poorly at best.

Each chapter is prefaced by a short introductory section modeled on the sort of “lore” or “flavor text” that a player can unlock in a video game by defeating a certain number of enemies, collecting a certain number of items, and so on. This isn’t made explicitly clear in the first novella, but these intro sections are written by Balthazar, the eponymous Demon King, who is addicted to romance novels and secretly aspires to be a writer himself.

I’ve been putting a lot of work into crafting an appropriately epic language for these sections. What I’m aiming for is a needlessly fancy style that borders on purple prose without being actually poorly written or obnoxious. In addition, I’d like for readers who come back to these passages after they know more about the world of the story to be able to see where Balthazar is being ironic, where he’s being sincere, and where he’s flat-out lying.

I had initially rendered these sections in italics, but I think we can all collectively agree that italics are difficult to read. I therefore reformatted the text to remove all the italics on the chapter intro sections. I might put them back in to demonstrate that these are excerpts from “found sources” and not part of the main body of narration, but I think the character-specific perspectives of the chapters are clear enough that third-person omniscient narration stands out strongly on its own.

I also decided is that everyone is going to be represented as speaking English. If the viewpoint character – usually Balthazar – can understand what someone is saying, it won’t be accented with italics. Perhaps other characters might comment on the fact that he understands speech they don’t, but I don’t want to play games with fantasy languages. Along the same lines, I deleted all mentions of fantasy language names. Nobody needs that.

One of my most hated of all sci-fi and fantasy tropes is when a story gluts itself on constructed terminology, especially in lieu of meaningful worldbuilding. I therefore tried to keep fantasy words at an absolute minimum. The crow people (called starags, after the Gaelic word for “crow”) have their own name because it would be silly to call them “crow people,” and the concept of a “gaesh” (a type of semi-telepathic soul bond that facilitates magic sharing) is something that I want to feel strange and alien to the reader, but I think that’s it.

I leaned into this by using common words for elements that are native to the story. For example, Balthazar is not a “demon” in the usual sense of the word, the “gargoyles” who appear about halfway through the story are actually bat people, the “artifact” Balthazar is seeking is something highly unusual and specific, and the creatures that Balthazar calls “dogs” and “horses” are not dogs and horses, not by a long shot.

As the story continues, I think it’s going to be fun to play with the disconnect between what various characters take for granted as common knowledge, but I want this to remain comfortably in the realm of comedy and not venture into the territory of “who knows what secrets at what point in the story.” If anyone asks, you didn’t hear this from me, but plot is overrated. The plot of The Demon King is going to become more interesting and intricate as more layers of the story are revealed, but I want the reader to care about the characters before the plot ever becomes a concern.

That being said, there are major conflicts between the characters that have no easy resolutions, so I took care in my edits to make sure that each of the main characters states their goals clearly. Figuring out why these characters insist on pursuing these goals is the story’s primary source of forward momentum, so I’m doing my best to set up these mysteries while also providing ample clues and a healthy dose of foreshadowing.   

Hopefully the process of writing a query letter will help me clarify the themes and narrative structure so that I can continue to hone the story when I return to it in May for another set of edits.

For the time being, I’m hosting the first novella in The Demon King on AO3, and you can find it (here).

This post’s illustration of Balthazar is by the lovely @Lemonscribs on Instagram, who was kind enough to compare the character’s aesthetic to Katie O’Neill’s fantasy slice-of-life comic The Tea Dragon Society. What an apt observation, and what an incredible compliment!

Balthazar as Antagonist


The Demon King
has ten chapters, and I’m a little more than halfway done with the first round of edits. I should be able to meet my projection of finishing by March 15, a month after I completed the first draft. The draft is only about 30k words, but progress is slow. The psychic damage I’m taking from finding typos and inconsistencies and unintended repetitions cannot be exaggerated.

This is only the first of five story arcs, so one of my main goals during this round of editing is to ensure that the central conflict is presented clearly and makes sense according to the somewhat limited information available to the reader. This is a short summary:

A powerful wizard named Balthazar wants to find a magical artifact hidden somewhere in the mountains between the kingdom of Whitespire and the ocean, which is highly poisonous. This artifact probably has something to do with the pure water coming down from the mountains and ensuring the prosperity of the kingdom. Balthazar doesn’t mention this artifact to his confidant Ceres, the reigning princess of Whitespire, who is presumably either unaware of its existence or unwilling to discuss it. If Balthazar does manage to find this artifact, the way he plans to use it will result in the downfall of Whitespire.

Balthazar is open with Ceres about his intentions to destroy Whitespire, but he makes no move to attack the kingdom, choosing instead to seek other magical artifacts elsewhere. It’s unclear why Balthazar is taking such a circuitous route toward his goal, but I hope the reader is able to get the sense that he’s not really the sort of person who would harm anyone if he could avoid it. He specifically doesn’t want to harm Ceres, mainly because he likes her.

There’s no significant antagonist in the story aside from Balthazar himself, as he’s going to have to do terrible things and hurt the people he cares about if he insists on achieving his goal. Unfortunately, he’s deadly serious about what he aims to do, so much so that it’s at the core of his sense of identity.

It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I’m inspired by the narrative structure of Homestuck, in which everything seems very silly and trope-driven until the reader gains a better understanding of what’s going on with the world of the story. I think it’s probably a fool’s errand to ask any given writer what themes they’re trying to express, but Balthazar has a line to the effect of “you always have a choice” that’s probably the closest thing to a statement of purpose I have regarding issues of individual freedom and dignity in the face of overwhelmingly horrible circumstances.

Also there are dick jokes, which symbolizes the fact that I like dick jokes.

In any case, once I finish this round of edits, I’m going to let the story sit for another month before writing a formal query. I’ll then do another round of edits before participating in several pitch events starting in late May. I’ll more than likely take the story offline at that point, but you can still read the draft as I edit it on AO3 (here).