How to Self-Edit

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Self-editing is an integral part of any writer’s craft. Looking back over your work, writing specific paragraphs or entire 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 be tedious and time-consuming. It can be tough to look at your work with neutral eyes and edit the manuscript in ways that don’t wholly squash your voice as the author. But you must do it. The point of editing and proofreading is recognizing that you’ve already done the hard part. The words are on the page. You have to examine the plot structure, the active vs. the passive voice, the tense of the work, and the words you’re using to ensure that 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.

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.

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

  1. Use tools like Grammarly or to proofread your work. 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 may accept your stuff 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. Part of the reason why I started Raconteuse Radio is 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 it backwards. I’m serious; give it a shot on a short passage from your work-in-progress.
  5. Take a break. Put the manuscript aside for a day, a week, a month. Whatever your arbitrary window of time is you’ll come back to it with brand-new eyes.

Suppose you’ve written a song, a short story, a blog post, a poem, a lyric, a non-fiction book, a book, a comic, a textbook, a film, a novel, a script, a movie, a graphic novel, an album, a screenplay, a play, or a children’s book. In that case, the chances are high that you’re going to need to bring in a third party to edit your work.

In conclusion, it is a good idea to write a story and then look for errors. It’s always a good idea to reread it from a fresh perspective to make sure the plot makes sense, the characters are consistent, and the language is clear.

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!

Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of color, but you may also know her as the host of the Raconteuse Radio podcast. Her work has appeared in Nevada Humanities and Helen. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally if one could call living there normal. Follow her on Twitter.

Use Your Words