Posted On August 21, 2017 by Print This Post

Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Manuscript – by Loucinda McGary

We’re starting off the week with tips from author Loucinda McGary on polishing your manuscript. Welcome back to RU, Loucinda!

Congratulations! You’ve finished the first draft of your story. Now what? You know you need to revise and edit, but where do you start? Or maybe you’re stuck in the dreaded ‘sagging middle’ and need a way out. Or maybe you can’t seem to get started on that love scene/gritty action sequence/emotional denouement. I’ll tell you what works for me, and maybe it will work for you, too. I start small and simple. This helps me in two ways: first, I make some necessary basic corrections; and second, I get some editing ‘success’ which gives me the confidence to tackle the bigger writing issues. So here are my five suggestions to gain some confidence and success:


  1. RUN SPELL CHECK – True, it doesn’t catch everything (like the difference between to, too, and two), but you might be surprised at what it does catch (like a character’s name spelled different ways). It also checks for some very basic grammar (like sentence fragments Do you really want that many of them so close together?).
  1. SHOW DON’T TELL – Do a word search (the “Find” button in Word) for ‘it was’ and ‘there was.’ Both of these phrases are triggers for telling (It was a warm, sunny day.). Instead, rewrite the sentence in your character’s point of view (Beads of sweat formed on John’s forehead as he squinted in the bright sunlight.).
  1. FIND AND REPLACE PET WORDS – Every writer has words they overuse. I had a critique partner who once used the word ‘it’ five times in one sentence! Do another word search, but this time, press the key that says “Reading Highlight” and select “Highlight All.” The Word program will highlight every instance of your pet word so you can plainly see how many times you’ve used it. Don’t know what your pet words are? Try finding these: had, just, that, very, back, really, so.
  1. USE MORE ACTIVE VERBS – Do a search for ‘was’ and see how many times ‘was’ is followed by an ‘ing’ verb. See how many of the ‘was …ing’ phrases you can replace with the simple ‘ed’ form of the verb. While not necessarily an inactive verb, the ‘was …ing’ creates a kind of filter between your reader and your character, more like telling. Using the plain old past tense of the verb creates more immediacy and quickens the pace of your story. For example: John was staring across the street. John stared across the street.
  1. ELIMINATE PRONOUN CONFUSION – Do a search for ‘he’ and make sure it is clear whom ‘he’ refers to (John and Jim went to the store and he bought a cookie. As written, Jim bought the cookie. Is that who the author meant?). Do the same for ‘she.’

Now that you’ve had these small and simple editing successes, you’ll have the confidence to take on the big writing and editing challenges, like plot holes, character arcs, sagging middles, and difficult scenes. Happy writing!

What are you crutch words and phrases? Do you have any tips on editing to share?

Check out Loucinda’s post from 2012 on Five Things to Consider During Revisions.


Bio: A Golden Heart finalist, Loucinda McGary is the author of three contemporary romantic suspense novels, The Wild Sight, The Treasures of Venice and The Wild Irish Sea. Her later books, The Sidhe Prince, High Seas Deception, His Reluctant Bodyguard, Dead Girl in a Green Dress, and The Mozart Murders are available on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.

Visit Loucinda’s website or connect with Loucinda via Facebook and Twitter.

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13 Responses to “Five Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Manuscript – by Loucinda McGary”

  1. Hi everyone!

    BIG thanks to Jen, Carrie, and Becke for inviting me back. I always love to blog here at RU, and I hope my editing tips were helpful.

    If you’d like a free download of one of my indie pubbed books, just drop me a note via my website.

    Happy Writing!

    Posted by Loucinda McGary | August 21, 2017, 2:04 pm
  2. Hi Loucinda,

    One of my pet words is ‘as’ and the first time I did a search and find, I was horrified at how many times I’d used it. I never thought about checking on pronoun confusion…oy. The spellcheck tip on ‘there was’ is very clever. I never thought of that. Turning the tables on you: which of the five tips is your nemesis?

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 21, 2017, 2:13 pm
    • Hey Jen,
      Glad the post was helpful for you. Without a doubt, the over used words are my nemesis. I use “as” too often also, and “just” slips in way too often. 😉 When I’m reading other authors’ works, I often find myself catching their over used words.


      Posted by Loucinda McGary | August 21, 2017, 6:52 pm
  3. Hi Aunty Cindy!! All very good tips. I find that editing as I go along sort of makes the whole editing at the end less daunting. I know I’ve got most of the annoying repetitive stuff already out of the way.

    I also like to run my chapters through AutoCrit, which catches a lot of overused words, shows sentence length variation, etc. It’s a tool I use as I go along as well.

    Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to a new novel (hint, hint).

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Posted by Patricia Rickrode | August 21, 2017, 3:13 pm
    • Hi Patricia!
      Thanks for the tip about AutoCrit. I need to try it.

      Sentence variation is another thing I can often spot in other writing (but not always in my own). Lots of authors fall into the Pronoun – Verb, Pronoun – Verb pattern (as in She walked… She talked… She sat… She stood…) in their paragraphs. Easy to fix once you identify it.


      Posted by Loucinda McGary | August 21, 2017, 6:57 pm
  4. Extremely helpful and highly practical tips! Thanks so much for sharing!

    Posted by Madeline Olson | August 21, 2017, 5:31 pm
  5. Evening Loucinda! My pet word is that. that that that and was was was. ugh. Humiliating to find how many pop up in the first draft, but worse when they keep cropping up in the third and fourth!

    Thanks for a great post!


    Posted by Carrie Peters | August 21, 2017, 6:56 pm
    • Hi Carrie,
      Thanks again for inviting me to blog here at Romance U!

      You are far from alone. Seems I’ve read a plethora of “that” and “was” in books lately. Clearly, another round of editing would have helped.

      Keep axing those repetitive words!


      Posted by Loucinda McGary | August 21, 2017, 7:03 pm
  6. The pronoun confusion issue is my pet peeve. I see it in otherwise good writers, and worse, I struggle to avoid it in my own books. Whenever there are more than two people of the same sex in a scene, it’s a lot of work to make sure the reader know who I’m referring to, when it’s so obvious to me! Thanks for the great tips.

    Posted by Catherine McGreevy | August 21, 2017, 9:45 pm
  7. Hi Cathy,
    Thanks for dropping by! It IS difficult to avoid pronoun confusion in a scene with multiple characters, but if this were easy… 😉

    Happy writing!


    Posted by Loucinda McGary | August 21, 2017, 11:15 pm


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