5 Self-Editing Tips
Updated: Jan 28
(Related article on Black Wolf Editorial)
Before we get into how, let’s cover the why you should self-edit.
If you are going the self-publishing route, your novel will be competing with traditionally published ones that have been through multiple drafts and edits.
If you are planning on using traditional publishing routes, your work will be competing with submissions which have gone through multiple rounds of editing.
You want readers to get pulled into and enjoy the world you have created. To do that, you need to make sure you have a well-written, entertaining, and engaging novel that hits your readers' expectations.
You Become a Better Author
By self-editing, your writing skills will improve.
With the why explained, let’s get into the 5 steps of self-editing.
1. Leave Your Novel Alone.
It may sound counterintuitive, but when you take a break from it, you distance yourself from the story you love and worked so hard to create. While I don’t suggest leaving it for over a month, the longer you stay away, the better you can edit from a clear perspective.
2. Read for Larger Story Elements.
Read your manuscript from beginning to end, making notes on any issues with storyline, scene construction, scene arrangement, pacing, flow, character likability, flaws, and believability.
Check in with your style sheet, worldbuilding, and character sketches to see if you are consistent in your descriptions and abilities of your characters. This is especially helpful when writing a series.
Always keep in mind your story’s point of view. If the whole novel is one person’s point of view, it is easier to pick see where you may have switched to other character’s motivations, intentions, or feelings. If your novel is written with multiple perspectives, make sure the scene or chapter perspective is consistent.
3. Assess Each Scene.
Every scene should have a purpose—moving the plot, adding or increasing conflict, or advancing a character’s development or relationships.
Make sure you have strong openings, and the scene concludes with a resolution or have the characters worse off than when the scene started.
Look at the dialogue and cut unnecessary banter. Remove some dialogue tags, replacing them with an action the character performs—action beats.
4. Read Your Story Aloud.
It might sound strange, but reading your story out loud helps you catch missing words, grammar mistakes, and repetitiveness that reading silently can’t. Our brains fill in or rearrange words, so the sentence makes sense. When hearing it, we use a different part of our brains which can pick out these issues easier.
If you find repetitive words and phrases, do a ‘find’ search and remove or replace them to decrease repetitiveness. In my experience, words like just, suddenly, really, very, and that are overused. ‘Started to’ and ‘could’ are indications of passive verb use. Try to decrease or eliminate these in your writing.
In this pass, you will check each sentence and fix remaining errors.
If sentences are in passive voice, change them to active voice. If your sentence structure feels too repetitive, look for ones that can be easily changed.
Lastly, you will fix punctuation, grammatical, and spelling errors.
You can use programs like ProWritingAid or Grammarly. But keep in mind, AI editing software isn’t perfect. They can’t understand your writing style. They can help with basic grammar issues.
What Comes Next?
After you have completed these five steps, you are ready to send your manuscript to a professional editor. How comfortable you are with your self-editing skills will help you determine what type of editing you need.
If you are having trouble with addressing plot holes, a boring middle, or character arcs, an editor who specializes in developmental editing would be a good choice for you.
If you know you have addressed these large issues, you are ready for line editing. Editors specializing in line editing will help the flow of your writing between scenes, paragraphs, and sentences and help vary your sentence structure.
Feel you have mastered developmental and line editing? It’s time for a copyeditor.
My advice is to always use a copyeditor and a proofreader before publishing or sending your manuscript to an agent or publisher.
Put your best work forward.
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