Useful Tips for Self-Editing a Manuscript

Good self-editing tips.

A Writer's Path


by Emily Nemchick

Whilst there is no substitute for hiring a professional editor, self-editing is an important skill for any writer to hone. For one thing, the more passes a manuscript gets, the fewer errors will remain in the final product. If you are using an editor, be sure to self-edit thoroughly first so they can focus on the things you have missed. If you are not using an editor, then self-editing is doubly essential. Here are a few tips to make sure you catch as many errors as possible.

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Author Confessions Round 6

Day seven of author confessions- What word do you use way too much?

This question makes me laugh because I have many words I use too often–looked, wp-1484512647273.jpglaughed, smiled. When I write a draft, the main purpose is to get the story on paper. Revising and editing, along with the many writing resources I own, clean up the writing and allow me to insert or change words and phrases into something more descriptive and fluid. That stage takes a long time only because I try to express character actions and feelings in creative ways without using unnecessary vocabulary or losing my unique writing voice.

Edit, Edit or Edit?

Good article about editing.

Writing your first novel-Things you should know


Well that is true, but it’s only one type of editing, and there are three different types listed in the article. The article also noted that a novel length manuscript needed to go through all three types before it was submission ready.

Developmental Edit – better known as the content editing, story editing, structural editing or substantive editing. This edit looks at the big picture of your novel and focuses on

  • character arcs/development
  • pacing
  • story structure
  • pot holes or inconsistencies
  • strong beginning, middle and end
  • plausibility/believability
  • clear transitions
  • point of view
  • showing vs. telling
  • dialogue

Copy Edit – copy editing is the one most of us think of when we hear editor. He comes on the…

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19 Self-editing Tips

If you’re in that editing stage and looking for some tips, this is helpful.


Help! Help!

Now that I’ve published my first novel, To Hunt a Sub, I can say from experience that writing it and editing it took equally long periods of time (and marketing is just as involved). After finishing the final rough draft (yeah, sure) and before emailing it to an editor, I wanted it as clean possible. I searched through a wide collection of self-editing books like these:

The Novel Writer’s Toolkit by Bob Mayer

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne

The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall

…and came up with a list of fixes that I felt would not only clean up grammar and editing, but the voice and pacing that seemed to bog my story down. Here are ideas you might like:

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EDITING 101: 08 – Using Song Lyrics in your Manuscript…

Good information to know.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.

Courtesy of Adirondack Editing

Using Song Lyrics in your Manuscript

You’ve just written the most perfect restaurant love scene imaginable. As your two main characters unite on the dance floor, the haunting strains of “Unchained Melody” play in the background. The lovers gaze deeply into each other’s eyes as the song’s lyrics pass through their ears, melding their souls together in acoustical rapture:

Oh, my…”

Wait! Stop! Halt!! Turn off the radio, unplug the phonograph, and disconnect your online radio station! Are you crazy? Are you looking for a lawsuit?

<Author looks around incredulously>

Who, me? Now what does this woman want me to do? Eliminate the perfect words from this scene?”

Yep, that’s exactly what I want you to do. You’re not…

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Dare to Be Different

I’m one of those writers, as I’m sure many of us are, who is never satisfied with my work.  I could write the most glorious sentence or an epic scene in a book, yet no matter how many times I reread it, I will always find something wrong with it. It seems to be par for the course when it comes to the writing process, at least for me.  Maybe it’s just the perfectionist in me, or maybe it’s because I know other people are going to read my work and compare me to their favorite well-known author, and I don’t want to sound like an ignorant buffoon. Whatever the reason, editing is the one stage in the writing process that I detest.

Although proper grammar is important, I’m not one to judge the entire worth of a person or their creative genius because of a typo or a misplaced comma.  And if you really think about it, grammar rules seem to be changing all the time.  Not only that, different editors look for different things.  I can give my carefully edited manuscript to a completely different person to look over and they will detest the changes the previous editor made and find different elements that need to be revised.  It’s a double edged sword.

Having another set of eyes look over your work is important, as they will see things that you, the author, missed.  Your extra eyes will often come up with some great ideas you hadn’t thought of, but throw caution to the wind with this.  Too many eyes and too much input can take away from the very voice you’re trying to project.  I’m not saying don’t take advice from an editor, I’m simply saying to consider their input, but don’t lose your voice or who you are as a writer in the process.

People who offer critique often give input about how they would write that scene or how they would portray that character, and although their ideas may be wonderful, that might not be the direction you wanted the story to go. The next thing you know, your entire storyline has changed and the book you were once excited about, the one that really expressed who you are as a writer, now shows off someone else’s voice instead of yours. Remember whose story this is. If your name’s on it, it should be your voice the reader hears.

Even with an extra set of eyes and an editor’s input, there will still be people out there who won’t like your word choice. They’ll question your use of phrases, criticize your misplaced comma (even though you purposely put it there for dramatic effect), and some critical readers specifically look for grammar and spelling errors, as if their sole purpose in life is to crush every ounce of creativity within a writer’s already endless self-doubt. (Come on.  You’ve all see those Amazon reviews: “Although I loved the story, I found three spelling errors.”  A great book now has a one star review because a grammar Nazi is on the loose.)

As a writer, you get to the point where you’ve read through a document a hundred times, finding something else you want to change each time.  But after awhile, you need to just tell yourself that you’re done. It’s finished.  You’ve said what you wanted to say in the best way possible. Your voice has been heard.  You also get to the point where you realize that not everyone is going to like your writing style. Some will hate what you do and be supercritical, others will love the content and crave your unique voice.  It’s a matter of personal preference. There is no magic formula.

I don’t write for the masses.  I have no desire to replicate or sound like another author. I don’t seek fame or fortune from my writing, and I am not out to top the national best sellers list. I refuse to get caught up in the conventions of a specific genre, giving up my voice in the process.  I write what I want to write in my own unique way, using my voice, my characters, and my words.

The writing world is overstuffed with writers trying to replicate other writers. Seems like everyone wants to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. But I don’t want to be like the writers I love to read. In my opinion, it’s better to be different. It’s better to have a unique voice. Others may be able to write more fluently, use fancier words, or sound more poetic, but no one can write my story the way I can.

Dare to be different.

Edit Without Mercy

The writing process consists of many stages.  According to most Language Arts and Writing curriculum experts these stages include pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publication.  (On a side note, I want to add that these stages aren’t alwayswriting-process linear and are often repeated multiple times within a single manuscript.)  My least favorite of these stages is editing/ revising, not because I have issues with grammar or sentence structure, but because it’s time consuming and forces me to drink too much caffeine.  Although I detest revising and editing, I want to focus on that stage of the writing process today.

I’m currently in the process of revising and editing my second book.  If I survive this process without losing all my hair I will be pleasantly surprised.

I want to start off with a personal disclaimer based on my experience as both a teacher and a writer.  Everything we were taught and still teach kids about writing does not apply to the real world of fiction.  Every English teacher is cringing as I say that.  The classic “said is dead”.  The five sentence paragraph.  Every sentence must have a subject and predicate.  Story boards and planning sheets.  Topic sentence and supporting details.  All of those strategies and techniques are great if the only thing you ever plan to write in your life is a research paper.  For fiction, the rules don’t always apply.

Over the years I’ve read tons of advice about writing, and listened to only a fraction of it.  I’m the kind of person who tends to take advice from people who have walked in my shoes.  When it comes to writing, I’m going to listen to people who are successful in the business.  I’ve read several books about the craft of writing.  Among my favorites are Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer, Stephen King’s On Writing, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.  Stephen King mentions another one called The Elements of Style written by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.  I have not read this one yet, but it is the next writing book on my “to read” list.

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These books were written by experts in the field and offer tons of advice about the craft of writing.  If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend that you do.

87ed09d60142a9bd380bb3054a3a7301Stephen King said it best.  Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.  What he meant by that was your first draft should be written to get the story out there.  Close the door to eliminate distractions and just write.  When you revise and edit, you’re clarifying meaning for your reader, smoothing out details, opening the door for them.

First drafts are crap.  Every writer will tell you that.  We all write chapters we don’t want published, but that’s what revising and editing is for.  When you are ready to re-read your manuscript and trudge through the revising and editing process, please keep one thing in mind: the worst thing you wrote is better than the best thing you didn’t write.

Let’s start by clarifying the difference between revising and editing.  Revising is adding/removing words, sentences, or paragraphs, changing a word or placement of a word (or entire chapter), and substituting words or sentences for new ones.  Editing involves capitalization, sentence structure, spelling, and punctuation.

Now that that’s been clarified, we can get down to business.  I am not a writing expert and in no way do I claim to be.  But I have learned a few things from the experts, and from personal experience, that I think are worth sharing.

1.  Said is not dead.  Back in Elementary School, Middle School, and High School we were all given extensive lists of alternative words for said.  The funny thing about that is in the world of fiction writing, editors want you to use said.  In On Writing, Stephen King even recommends he said, she said.  Nothing more.  Go figure.

2. Avoid dialogue tags.  This is where the phrase said is dead would apply.  Don’t write “Let’s go to the park,” Billy said.  Instead use a beat.  Here’s an example.  Billy picked up his basketball and held it under his arm.  “Let’s go to the park.”  This shows action, and based on that action, I know Billy is the one speaking.  Use of a dialogue tag may sometimes be necessary to clarify who is speaking, but when you use one, stick with said.

3. Read dialogue out loud.  Does it sound genuine?  Does it sound like something your character would say?  If your character is a surfer, does he or she speak in surfer slang?  Each character has his or her own voice.  The words that come out of your character’s mouth should reflect that voice.

4. Avoid as and -ingExample:  As I walked down the street, I saw a dog with a bone between his pawsWalking down the street, I saw a dog with a bone between his paws.  Stephen King suggests you do neither of the above.  Instead get to the point and simply say,  I walked down the street and saw a dog with a bone between his paws.  He’s written and sold countless best selling novels.  Might not be a bad idea to consider his advice.

5.  Along the same lines, cut the fluff.  Don’t try to fancy up your writing with big words your reader won’t understand.  The purpose of fiction is to tell a story, not to show off your extensive vocabulary.  Use the first word that comes to mind.  If you later think of a word that better describes what you want to say, then by all means change it.  As the writer you have every right to change, add, and delete all you want.  But usually your first instinct is the best.

6. Grammar.   You don’t have to be a grammar Nazi, and language doesn’t always have to be dressed in a suit and tie.  In fact, sometimes grammatically proper sentences can stiffen a line.  It’s ok to use fragments and omit a comma if you want the line to be read without a pause.  It’s ok to have a one word paragraph.  Really.  It is.  But you need to know enough about grammar to sound intelligent.

7. Go with the flow.   Your story telling should be smooth, not choppy.  When you re-read, listen to the beat.  Can you hear the rhythm?

8.  Proportion.  Vary sentence length.  Alternate between narrative and dialogue.  Write intense action then give your reader some time to breath with a more relaxed scene before you move into action again.aee53c508b8555aa7d7fa06f5aee40d5

9.  Show, don’t tell.   Let your characters tell the story through their actions and dialogue.  Don’t tell me Mary is sad.  Show me her glossy eyes and quivering lip.  Let me hear her sobs and feel her tear-soaked shirt sleeve.  Give your reader details, but not so many that you flood the story and disturb the flow.  Show only what your characters see.  Let the reader imagine the rest.

10.  To steal a quote from Stephen King, The road to hell is paved with adverbs.  He didn’t run quickly, he sprinted.  The use of adverbs means you didn’t choose the right verb.  Find a stronger verb.  Not a fluffy one, just a stronger one.

df98c6b936ecfa537d367b6571ed209111.  If you don’t need it, cut it.  Stay on target.  If a line, sentence, paragraph, scene, or chapter doesn’t move the story forward, get rid of it.  Cut unnecessary characters.  Cut unneeded dialogue.  Revising and editing will not kill you.  It may kill some of your characters, but it won’t kill you.

Revising and editing is painstakingly time consuming and often frustrating.  You slaved for months to write this manuscript and putting it on the chopping block is hard.  Believe me, I know.  But if you take the time to revise and edit without mercy, your writing will reap the benefits.

I want to close with one last remark.  Find your voice.  Attempting to copy another writer is fake and often forced.  You have a voice and you have a style all your own.  Find it, use it, refine it.  It’s your story.  Don’t let anyone else hold the pen.

Power of Words