Suggestions for Self-Editing

If hiring an editor is absolutely out of the question and you cannot trade for editorial services, or bribe a friend, here are a few tips for self-editing that you might find useful.

Even if the thought of checking for commas puts you in a coma, by the end of this post, you’ll know how to— and maybe even enjoy—self-editing.

Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and layout

Spell check will not catch everything but don’t skip running it – you will be surprised at what you will uncover.

And search features are your friend.

Use the search function to look for the following:

  • Double punctuation marks (periods, commas, etc.)
  • Quote marks followed immediately by a period
  • Other odd text anomalies

Place punctuation (periods, commas, etc.) inside quotes, in almost every case. Be consistent with capitalization in chapter titles and subheads.

Pro tip: When you are self-editing, be sure to turn on the spelling and grammar controls in your word processing program (usually under system preferences) and pay attention when you see green or red squiggly lines under a word or phrase. Think of those lines as queries: Your computer may flag a deliberate word choice you made, and you can leave it alone, but it may flag something you need to fix.

Last, when writing dialogue, remember: new speaker, new paragraph, and punctuate to control the reading experience and guide the reader.

Writing tone, voice, and rhythm

Self-editing is a great time to check the tone of your writing, as well as consistent voice and rhythm.

Watch out for “to be” verbs

“To be” verbs like was, am, are convey no action. Instead, animate your text with active, strong verbs. “To be” verb forms can be useful, but too many will drag your prose down.

Vary sentence length

Varying sentence length makes the rhythm and pace of your writing so much more enjoyable. Sentences that are similar in length are boring. Try breaking them up, using short ones to punctuate a paragraph or add a surprising twist.

Avoid excessive adjective or adverb use

Adjectives and adverbs have their place, but too many of them make the text feel overwritten. In fact, you can remove most adverbs (descriptive words that end with -ly) without changing the meaning of your text.

Avoid clichés

They are one of my biggest writing blunders. Search them out and destroy them, unless absolutely necessary.

Avoid excessive clauses and too many big words

Watch out for a string of clauses a row. Consider breaking one sentence into two when they seem to be running on.

Be inventive with word choice but not for the sake of being inventive: Don’t write like you’ve been reading a thesaurus.

Root out diminutives, unnecessary qualifiers, and waffling descriptors

Avoid a little, a bit, very, could have been, sort of, kind of, etc. They make your writing feel weak and tentative.

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In addition to these pointers, there are a lot of good resources available about the writing and editing process, but one of the best suggestions I can offer a writer when it comes to revising text is to read it out loud.

Your neighbors/family members/coworkers might think you are crazy, but reading your work out loud allows you to hear the rhythm and flow, uneven pacing and sentence construction, repetitive words, and more. If you stumble while speaking it, rewrite it to flow more smoothly.

Once you have your manuscript edited and ready to publish, you need to create the interior book pages. Our next post will tell you everything you need to know about finding a designer, and how to do book layout.