Tip 1: use Word’s ‘Find’ feature (or ‘Advanced Find’ in Word 2010) to highlight words you use too often. Plug in the word, click on ‘Reading Highlight’ and then skim through your ms to get a stark visual overview of often the word appears. An abundance of fluoro yellow might mean you need to vary your vocab a little.
Tip 2: try editing from back to front. After working through my ms a number of times, I get the feeling that the first chapters get the most attention. I know my attention shouldn’t flag but I’m sure it does. The chapters toward the end probably don’t get the same scrutiny. Therefore, near the end of the process, I do a backward edit – I start with the last chapter, then when I’ve finished with it I go to the second last chapter and so on. It reframes my revising and it’s remarkable what I pick up.
Tip 3: use Word Lists. I have a number that I use when revising/editing. One is a list of words I tend to overuse (see Tip 2). Others are lists of contextual vocabulary – historical slang, technical jargon, foreign words – that can be added while revising.
Tip 4: if your habit is to revise/edit on a print out, try one pass through on screen. And vice-versa. If your practice is to revise/edit on screen, try a pass through using a print out. Working in a format you’re not comfortable with or accustomed to can put you on your mettle.
Tip 5: read your dialogue out loud. There’s nothing like this to highlight whether your characters are talking naturally or not. If you find yourself reading in one character’s voice, uninterrupted, for five minutes – you might have a mouthpiece instead of a character.