The self-editing process

Photo of a sharpened pencil, next to pencil shavings and small, gray pencil sharpener

Self-editing is an integral part of any writer’s craft.

Editing is always a good idea to give yourself a chance to reread something you’ve already created with a fresh perspective to make sure the plot makes sense, the characters are consistent, and the language is clear.

The point of editing and proofreading is recognizing that you’ve already done the hard part. The words are on the page.

Looking back over your work, writing specific paragraphs or sections over again can often be the only way to evaluate whether or not your writing is strong enough for publication.

The problem is that self-editing can feel tedious and time-consuming.

Editing can be a brutal act to look at your work with neutral eyes and edit the manuscript in ways that don’t wholly squash your voice as the author. However, the work will pay off if you put in the effort.

The next part of your job is to examine the plot structure, any instances of active vs. passive voice, the work’s current tense, and the words you’re using to ensure you’re getting your point across.

My only advice to you is this: be ruthless.

  • Cut a scene; cut three.
  • Remove an entire character.
  • Don’t like how you introduced or wove in a vital plot point? Delete it and start fresh.

Killing your darlings feels like an unnecessary act of cruelty, a violation of the Geneva Conventions, but trust me when I say that trusting yourself to make those editorial decisions will make a world of difference to the next iteration of your manuscript.

A book I recommend to help you get into the editing mindset is Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K. Le Guin.

6 ideas to get started

Here are a few steps to get the process going. They don’t have to be in order, but no one will stop you if that works best for your editing process.

1. Proofread the text.

Use tools like Grammarly or Hemingway App to assist you. Don’t get too bogged down in proofreading that you’re spending your entire morning putting in a comma and then using up your whole afternoon taking it out.

2. Change the font face and size.

Times New Roman, 12 pt font, is the standard for manuscripts. Some publishers tend to accept your work in Calibri, as that’s the standard in Microsoft Word nowadays.

Scroll through your word processor’s font list and give something like Antonio, Noto Sans, or for that extra spicy typewriter font, Courier New, a starring role in your manuscript. You can always change it back before submission.

3. Read the words aloud.

I started the podcast because I wanted to hear the words on the page in my ear. Something about this step helps me to look at the words differently.

4. Mix it up.

Read the manuscript backward. I’m serious; give a shot at a short passage from your work-in-progress.

5. Walk away.

If you’re feeling energized or have a deadline, physically get up and walk away from your computer. Play a game on your phone, drink water, or take your dog for a walk.

6. Take a break.

Put the manuscript aside for a day, a weekend, or a month. Whatever your arbitrary time window, I promise you’ll return to the manuscript with new eyes.

In any case, the chances are high that you want to consider bringing in a third party to edit your work. A good editor can be a priceless asset to your creative process. It’s a service that I offer here through Writeropolis Industries.

Let’s talk!

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