A 5-Step Approach to Self-Editing

You’re several drafts into your manuscript – maybe even a dozen at this point – and there it is: the finished story. Now what?

Even if you plan on hiring an external editor as per professional recommendations, conducting a self-editing process can allow you to fix many of the glaring errors in your manuscript and get to know your novel from a more objective standpoint. If you work with an editor who uses an hourly rate, cleaning up everything you can could also save you money in the long run.

Ready to rise to the challenge? Follow the five-step approach to get started on your self-editing journey.

1. Let it sit.

Before you approach your work for the self-editing process, give yourself time on other projects to cleanse the palette. Once several weeks or months have passed, revisit any notes you may have on what you want to accomplish with your work, or take some time to jot down a few points of what you’d hope the reader takes away from your novel – anything from the impact of major themes to the thrill of a plot twist. Be clear on your aim here, as this will be your touchstone as you move through the editing process.

2. Create a game-plan.

In order to leave no stone unturned, you’ll want to consider scheduling small, manageable appointments for the various forms of editing ahead of you. Editing is all about detail, so it isn’t something to undertake in marathon sessions.

Delegate a focus for each time you plan sit with a section. If your brain is looking for spelling errors, you may miss grammatical issues, so stick with an editing theme for each session.

This is also the time to think about enlisting help where you can. See if any friends or family members are on board to listen if you’d like to read a tricky section aloud, and remind yourself of any software that could assist you, such as Grammarly, AutoCrit or Hemingway Edit.

3. Start with a manuscript edit.

Now that you’ve wrapped your head around the momentous task ahead of you, give your draft a fresh read. Focus on story and plot, keeping the intentions you jotted down in mind. This is a time to consider the overall arc of your story, consistency of tone, whether the point of view is jumbled, and if the pace is effective.

If you spot a few plot holes or feel a character’s journey isn’t what you pictured, these are issues to fix before you move on to other forms of editing. Don’t be afraid of many drafts – if need be, take your manuscript back to another story-focused draft before continuing on with the editing process.

4. Time for a comprehensive edit.

Once you’re happy with the story itself, change gears to focus on rhythm and flow at the paragraph level. Are there superfluous sentences? How do you feel about your paragraph transitions?

If you’re a perfectionist, it’s key to remember to go with your gut on the comprehensive edit. One of the biggest pitfalls of self-editing is that, because you’re close to your work, it’s easy to overthink and question aspects that are actually working for you. If you worry too much about the possibilities for wording a single conversation, you could rewrite forever. Before you produce ten versions of the same sentence, consider why you wrote what you did in the first place.

5. Move on to copy editing.

You may have already spotting grammatical issues, typos and spelling errors during your previous edits, but now it’s time to focus exclusively on those details. Watch out for homonyms written in a sleepy state or missing words, both of which a word processor may not pick up. Are character and place names spelled consistently throughout? Check that you’re ‘showing, not telling,’ using active voice, nixing unnecessary adverbs, and keeping an eye out for overused words. A tool such as Word Counter or built-in functions of Scrivener can even help you spot words used most frequently; it may be useful to explore synonyms.

Now that you’ve finished self-editing, you can pass on your work to an editor and will be able to take their recommendations from a place of better understanding of the manuscript you’ve produced. If an editor is simply out of the budget and you still plan to self-publish, it’s recommended you go through this process several times. No manuscript is ever perfect, but with patience, objectivity, and a clear mind, you can get pretty darn close on your own.

  • Posted by Julia McAlpine
  • May 13, 2020 12:18 PM PDT
Follow the five-step approach to get started on your self-editing journey.




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