Vocabulary, repetition, proofreading and editing

Advice from a New York Times Bestselling Author, Part 4

This guest post was written by Victoria Twead, the New York Times bestselling author of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools and the ever-growing Old Fools series. Victoria also has her own small publishing company, Ant Press, which feeds her passion for helping authors reach bestseller status. Find her at victoriatwead.com and antpress.org

When you are writing, keeping your vocabulary rich and varied is essential, and a thesaurus should be your best friend.

Just to illustrate this point, I looked up the simple word ‘walk’, and my online thesaurus offered me the following alternatives:

advance, amble, ambulate, canter, escort, exercise, file, foot, go, go on foot, hike, hit the road, hoof it, knock about, lead, leg it, locomote, lumber, march, meander, pace, pad, parade, patrol, perambulate, plod, prance, promenade, race, roam, rove, run, saunter, scuff, shamble, shuffle, slog, stalk, step, stride, stroll, strut, stump, take a walk, toddle, tour, traipse, tramp, travel on foot, traverse, tread, trek, troop, trudge, wander, wend one’s way

Of course, don’t overdo it, or you’ll appear as though you’ve swallowed a dictionary. Never try to be too clever by using unfamiliar words. If readers don’t understand the words you choose, however correct your choice may be, they’ll be irritated.


Even the best, most experienced writers may be unaware that they have favourite phrases that they often repeat. For instance, I can’t help noticing how often Lee Child uses the phrase “in a beat”. Happily, there is a quick cure.

Simply copy your chapters and paste them into an online phrase frequency counter like this one.


It will tell you instantly if you tend to repeat phrases. If you are guilty of the crime, you can then go back and edit the overused phrases.

I do this with all my books and am always horrified at the result. In the first draft of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools, I had written ‘half an hour’ twenty-three times…

When your first draft is complete proofreading is essential. Proofreading means searching for errors in grammar, spelling, spacing, punctuation, word choice, tense and organisation.


Of course you must proofread your own work, but that isn’t enough. As the author, you will be blind to some mistakes because you will read what you expect to read, not what is actually written.

A helpful trick is to temporarily change your font style and size to give it a different look while you proofread.

It also helps enormously to print out your work, as you’ll see it with slightly different eyes. Borrow the professional proofreader trick of using a ruler and checking line by line. The ruler forces you to focus on that line and doesn’t allow your eye to stray.

Use your online proofreader and spellchecker, but bear in mind they won’t find every typo. They won’t pick out errors like writing ‘loose’ instead of ‘lose’. Or missing the ‘t’ out of ‘the’. Only human eyes can spot that.

Friends and family can really help out at this stage. Get as many different people to proofread your manuscript (MS) as possible. This will help eliminate any errors that have slipped through.

I always pay to have my own books independently proofread. I am often horrified by the number of typos that are found by the professional when I thought I’d checked every word meticulously.


Editing is not the same as proofreading. Editing is the ironing out of errors in the plot, character development, pace, structure, storyline, and tone.

When you have finished your final chapter, set the MS aside. Leave it for several days, longer if possible. Then read it again with fresh eyes. You’ll be astonished at how many errors you’ll pick out, and how much you’ll change. Once this is done, the most useful exercise you can do is to have a friend or family member read your work aloud to you. If there is nobody available, even reading it aloud to yourself is better than nothing. Listening to your story read to you will help you pick out character inconsistencies or weaknesses in the plot.

Also, does the reader stumble at all? If so, rewrite that section so it flows better.

Once you have done all you can do yourself, pass your MS to a professional editor.  Friends and family will tell you that you are a wonderful writer, which does wonders for one’s ego but is simply not good enough.

If you can’t afford an editor, I highly recommend joining a writers’ circle, whether online or in your locality. Strangers, more brutally honest than your friends and family, will critique your work and give you valuable feedback. In exchange, you will read chapters of their work and voice your opinion on their writing efforts.

YouWriteOn.com is an excellent online writing community whose members come from all over the world. It’s sponsored by the British Arts Council and highly respected. It’s free to join and incredibly useful. Fellow members will award you stars for different aspects of your writing, like characterisation, plot, pace, structure, and your use of language.

If you score high and reach the top five, you will win a free professional critique from a big publishing house or literary agent, who may even sign you up, if a traditional publisher is what you seek.

Victoria Twead is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools.

Living in a remote mountain village in Spain, and owning probably the most dangerous cockerel in Europe, inspired Victoria to write a memoir describing life amongst their colorful neighbors. Chickens immediately shot to bestseller status and the Old Fools series was born. The writing bug had bitten and Victoria began penning the Sixpenny Cross fiction series, a children’s comedy play script, and non-fiction works.

Victoria and Joe retired to Australia to drool over grandchildren and run Ant Press, where they indulge their passion for writing and publishing. Another joyous life-chapter has begun.

Contact Victoria at victoriatwead.com or antpress.org.

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