Use Search and Replace to Revise Your Manuscript

by Tim Kane

After slogging through multiple rewrites, I thought I was done. Then came the critique. I had overused the same sort of physical reaction over and over again in the book. I turned to the best tool I had: Search and Replace.

This is an awesome feature in most word processors, but don’t take it for granted. It can’t write your story for you. Here are some of the steps I went through to fix a 75,000 word document.

  1. Use the search to find each keyword, but don’t automatically replace. Then you’ll simply replace one redundant phrase with another.
  2. Try rewriting the phrase so that’s it’s different. In my case I had my protagonist having an amped up heartbeat everywhere. I switched this to breathing, or nerves, or tingling.
  3. Cut when you can. If you can do without the phrase, axe it.
  4. Keep track of pacing. I wrote down the page number each phrase appeared on. If the next one was 8 or 10 pages away, I felt I could keep it. If not, then I had to modify or cut.
  5. Finally, do a read through of each modified paragraph before moving on. Sometimes that simple tweak can mess up the grammar.

Use the Search and Replace tool as a way to save time, but use it intelligently.


About Tim Kane

Tim Kane is a writer of fiction.
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7 Responses to Use Search and Replace to Revise Your Manuscript

  1. I don’t know how anyone wrote before computers; I love my Ctrl-F. 🙂 I also use the Search and Replace to replace a word with itself and choose Replace All. Then the computer tells me how many replacements it made and I know how many times the word is used. I do it to see if I’ve overused a certain word or phrase or how many times a character’s name appears.

  2. Marianne Su says:

    I’ve used this before with multiple references to eyes. I did a search and re-phrased them one after another. It’s an easy way to edit out repetitions that we don’t always see when we read the work.

  3. Great practical advice, Tim.

  4. leejtyler says:

    Love it. I do the Ctl-F as well, but this is a fantastic addition (and there waiting, all of this time). The sage advise you give on the use of this new/old tool is appreciated by me. Thank you!

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