How to Self-edit

You’ve finished writing your WiP, and it’s time to edit. Now this can be a daunting task to say the least. You’ve got a first draft, but now you need to get it to a finished manuscript. That takes some work, but it can be done. Let’s talk about self-editing.

First, give yourself some time away from your draft. It’s important to see things with fresh eyes. For two weeks at the least. Start with macro edits. These are the big picture concerns, like does your story flow or are there any plot inconsistencies?

Look for:

  • Theme. Identify and clarify your theme. You don’t want to beat your readers over the head with your theme, but you want your story to have its heart.
  • Subplots. Are they fully developed? Are they dynamic? Meaning the characters and their relationships change and develop as the story moves forward. Are they resolved in the end? Unless you’re writing a series, all subplots should be tied up in the end to satisfy your reader.
  • Plot inconsistencies. Does a minor character change last names or a main character suddenly has blue eyes instead of green? Keep a journal for these types of details so that you can keep track of these and avoid mistakes.
  • Transitions. Does each scene flow from one to another? Are your chapters in the best order for flow? Make sure it’s a smooth switch from point A to Z.
  • Cut extra fluff. Could those two minor characters be condensed into one and the story still works? If there’s a character or a scene that isn’t moving the story forward, you need to cut it. Even if you love it. Kill your darlings.
  • Foreshadowing. Is it fully developed? Did you plant enough clues without being too obvious? And if you’ve planted clues, did you pay them all off in the end? If you leave something open, your readers will feel disappointed.
  • Show, don’t tell. There’s a time for telling, like when you summarize the passage of time, but in most cases, you’ll want to make sure you are showing. Immerse the reader in each scene and don’t forget to engage all five senses. Avoid telling words like heard, saw, seemed, felt, etc.

Humusak / Pixabay

After big changes like this, it’s time to look at polishing your WiP. Again, take time away from your WiP in between edits to give yourself fresh eyes. At least two weeks. Work in passes. Focus on one problem at a time.

  • Watch your adjectives and adverbs. Use strong verbs and concrete nouns instead. Instead of he walked haltingly, use he limped. Instead of flowers, use lilies. Be specific in your details to paint a picture.
  • Word choice. Is this word correct or the best to describe this?
  • Eliminate passive voice. Passive voice makes the object of the sentence into the subject. So, for instance, the ball was thrown by Bill. Change it to Bill threw the ball. If you can add “by zombies” to the end of the sentence and it still makes sense, it’s in passive voice.
  • Punctuation and grammar. Does the subject and verb agree? Does that sentence need a comma or a semicolon? Use a manual like Chicago Manual of Style for punctuation and grammar rules.
  • Watch out for misspellings and words that are close, like though and thought. Otherwise your character might lose a limb to a clever (heard this complaint about a real story; don’t be that writer).

If you are self-publishing, I would STRONGLY recommend hiring an editor to go over your piece. You want your work to be at a professional level and a second pair of eyes can be invaluable. Even if you hire an editor, you should still self-edit to save your editor time and focus, which saves you money. I talked about what to do before you hire an editor here.

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How do you feel about editing? What are your best tips? Share below and happy editing.


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How Do You Edit?


Each writer has his/her own process of creation. That includes, and I cringe at the word, editing. Nope, there is no way around it.  It is one of the necessary evils (like marketing) that we writers must endure.

I’m probably speaking just for myself. Some writers absolutely love editing. (No, really, stop laughing.)

How many times do you edit your book/story before submitting to an editor? Yes, before. And before publishing? 

I’ve met writers who believe editors are for fixing whatever they are handed.  They expect the editor to take a run-down shack and turn it into a mansion.  Have more respect for your story than to hand over shoddy work. 

I find I have to go through my own work 5-6 times minimum before I feel ready to show it to anyone.

1.       First draft is complete. I print it out and read through making notations about plot holes, character quirks, details, foreshadowing.  First drafts are always horrible. The universe has declared it so.  This is where you determine if the story works at all or what it needs to fix it. Then I start making changes. But I take heart in the fact I have a working three act structure.

2.       Second draft. I read through it again and determine if the changes make sense.  Find more things to be fixed. First round of punctuation and grammar. Input this series of changes.

3.       I like to create the final outline and synopsis then go over it in detail. Sometimes things pop out when you look at the bones. An outline strips away the flesh to display the skeleton, the structure and framework of your work.

4.       I go back and make sure the sensory information is included.  Touch, smell, hearing, taste.  Emotions and feelings are part of the whole picture. Visual imagery or environmental detail gets filled in. Don’t underestimate visual imagery but also realize we don’t always need to know the color of the drapes.

5.       Here is where I put the piece through Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or one of the other services for writers to check for their opinion on what needs to be fixed.

None of the above are hard and fast rules nor do they always take place in the order listed. But they do take place.

I feel it is my place as an author to present my best work to my editor.  I don’t care for others messing with my basic story. (That sounds pretentious but it isn’t up to my editor to tell my story.)  I like to keep the editor’s job to catching what I missed, asking questions to clarify, and that darned grammar and punctuation.  If I have done my job well, it should be an easy edit for them.

If you've done well, your #editor should have an easy job. @NEMiller_Author #amediting… Click To Tweet

I have to add on one more read-thru after considering the edits. At least one. Let me be frank. By the time I get through reading and rereading, I know I am done when I feel the need to throw my laptop across the room.

Yes, it is true.  It never ends.  When the publisher gets the book there is another edit, another read, then the proofs, another read.  By the time the darn thing is in print, you have it memorized.

How do you edit? Feel free to share your process.  Leave it in the comments. I would love to hear from you.


Editing 101

Editing, shmediting.  It’s all the same thing, isn’t it?  You’re going through making sure your draft looks good so you can get your work published, right?  At its heart, yes.  That is what editing is.  However, it’s much more than that.  There are several kinds of editing that focus on different aspects of the work.  Let’s go over some of them.

#Editing, shmediting. It’s all the same thing, isn’t it? @dontpanic2011 #writingtips #amediting… Click To Tweet


editing 101This level of editing looks at the story itself.  Does the plot make sense?  Are the characters’ behaviors consistent throughout the story?  Do you have extraneous scenes or jumps in scenes that don’t make sense?  Developmental or substantive editing is the most labor intensive level, which is often why it costs the most when you’re paying an editor.  It is also normal to make significant changes, such as deleting scenes or major rearrangements, during this editing process.  The major difference between these two types of editing, when seen, is when the process starts.  Developmental editing often starts at the beginning of the project, long before writing the first draft.  Substantive editing usually starts after that first draft is written.  Overall, though, the main goal during this level of editing is to ensure the story itself is solid and consistent.

Copy Editing/Line Editing

The main goal in this phase of editing is to review the mechanics of the writing.  This is all about things like grammar and punctuation.  Though this level of editing seems like it would be more labor intensive, it is not.  This is because the focus shifts from the overall story to the words themselves.  Therefore, if you’re paying your editor, this phase will not be as expensive.  Do not skimp on this phase of editing though.  It is critical to ensure the presentation of your work looks good because good mechanics allow readers to see the great story you’ve created.  This can also be called stylistic editing, which is where the editor is ensuring the author’s voice is clear throughout the piece, and style manual rules are followed.  Also, know that copy editing can get split out as a separate service.  If it is, then the focus of the copy editing is much more technical than on style issues.


This level of editing is often confused with copyediting.  The two are very similar.  However, there are two distinct differences.  The biggest difference is that this step happens after the work has been put into the final print format whether that is an electronic or physical print format.  The second distinct difference is that this is a final pass for stray errors.  This is because errors can happen during the formatting process and you want to catch them before going to print.  Your goal should be to look as hard as possible and find as few errors as possible by the time you get to this stage.  No editor or editing program will ever catch every single error.  It’s just not possible.  Therefore, it is important not to skip this step.  Just remember, proofreading is not meant to be anything more than a last double check before the piece is printed.  If you make any substantial changes, the best plan would be to go back at least to the copy editing/line editing phase, reformat it, and then proofread again.

Putting It Together

So, there you have it.  Some of the terminology may vary, but these are the basic levels of editing.  Some editors may specialize in one level, but do no editing on another level, so be clear about what they offer and you expect before you enter an editing agreement.  Asking for samples of the editor’s work is another way to see exactly what the editor does.  These steps will go far in making sure everyone’s experience is as positive as possible.  Also, these editing steps should happen in this order.  There is no point to fixing grammar in a section you later rearrange drastically or cut.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, or experiences with the different levels of editing.  Hope this helps!


Self-Editing Your Poetry

Poetry is tough to create. There are so many diverse styles we can choose from to express our thoughts, emotions, and visions. Word choice is perhaps the single most important variable we must consider when planning our poems, yet we often hurry to “get it all down” before we really consider the tone and structure we want to convey. Often, after we have bled our ink upon the parchment, we look back and unsatisfied, we destroy the fragile emotion we’ve worked so hard to present. It can madden us mere mortal poets.

One of the tips I have incorporated into my own poetry writing process is to read the piece aloud.  I then ask myself, “Does it flow? Do the word choices fit the mood, the “story”, the rhythm?” If I can’t readily answer “Yes!” then I know I have more work to do. Asking yourself these questions will help you identify where your piece is stronger – and where it is weaker. Of course, if you have someone whom you trust read and critique your mechanics, you’ll have the benefit of “fresh eyes” to help you, but it is important that to remember that far too often, other people will try to encourage and compliment your writing- at the cost of a smidgeon of honesty.  You will be your best and most honest reviewer. All of that said, don’t be so tough on your work that you become afraid to take chances and push the boundaries of what is commonly accepted. Poetry should be a wonderful way of expressing your thoughts, ideas, and emotions in a novel and unique format! There is a kind of implicit balance between the “norm” and the “novel”- and only practice and “trial and error” will help you determine what the perfect balance for your piece is.

Please indulge me as I share this next part. On a very rudimentary level, most poetry is either freestyle (free verse) or rhyming. One of my pet peeves is reading a piece that seemingly cannot decide if it wants to rhyme or not. Please, make it clear for your reader whether your piece wants to rhyme or not!  When a poem starts out rhyming, and then suddenly becomes free-verse, (or vice-versa) your reader is thrown for an unhappy loop- and you will have lost the momentum you’ve built in the piece. As for most things in life, consistency is a key for success!

Most word processing programs have a “spell check” option available. Please use it. Even if you were the Tri-State area spelling champ for 12 years running, you’re only human; and therefore, are subject to mistakes and typos. Common spelling mistakes detract from your credibility and reputation as a writer because allowing them to remain in a piece you’ve submitted for publication shows (whether justified or not) that you don’t take your work seriously- or care enough to make it the best you possibly can. Remember, your writing represents you. Your poetry convey a lot of information about your life, your thoughts, your ideas and emotions. Your writing career’s success is largely dependent on how your readers perceive your abilities when they see your name on a piece. Take a few extra minutes and self-edit. Both you and your publisher will be glad you did.

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Dodging the Melting Clock

Time is fluid. This is the basic theory of Relativity. What can seem like hours to one person might seem like minutes to someone else. As a writer, however, you cannot allow time or distance to be fluid concepts within the plot. Consistency might involve establishing terminology and synchronizing timelines, as much as maintaining consistent measurement. Here are some pitfalls to look out for and edit out of your writing.

Time/Distance Terminology


Unsplash / Pixabay

Is your story set in a world that has no concept of synchronic time (hours, minutes, seconds)? If so, it would be odd for your story to include any of the following:

  • The “hour” being late, early, or near
  • In the next “minute” or “minutes” later
  • A split “second,” or similar to the above, “seconds” later
  • Noon or midnight

Replace these instances with something more general like:

  • Midday
  • Midmorning
  • Twilight
  • Moments later

Conversely, are you writing within a world with non-Earth measurements of time? If so, not only do you need to establish a totally new set of time measurements, you also need to scrub all instances of hours, minutes, and seconds, in favor of your world’s time measurements.

Time/Distance Consistency

In non-Earth based worlds, whether in dark fantasy, dystopian science fiction, or another subset of dark fiction, distance and the time needed to cover it becomes a challenge. You need to first establish your geography and then the amount of time it takes to get from point A to B. This affects all other distance/time factors within your story.

For example, in first book in my series, Into the Darkness, I established that it took less than a full day for Aeryn and Theo to travel from Valis to Cira. Then, when they traveled from Cira to Belhaun, twice the distance from Valis to Cira (give or take), it took them a little over two days to complete the journey.

Once this distance/time factor is established in your story, you have to stick to it. During editing, you must account for any variances you encounter or change the scene that diverges from the established measurement. Otherwise, you risk your reader stopping at that point in the story and scratching their head in confusion.

Timeline Consistency Within Multiple Plots

Whether you have multiple plots within one book or spanning multiple books, you need to keep your timelines straight to avoid confusing your reader about what is happening when. If you have timelines that overlap and diverge/converge, this is even more crucial. You can’t place a character in X location in one plot and then have them in a totally different part of the continent a day later in another plot, barring magical or technological interference.

I’ll give you another example from my Cathell series. After the events in book 1, the main characters all split off in different directions. In books 2 and 3, the events are happening semi-simultaneously. The end of book 3 sets up the events in book 4 and 5, including the introduction of a new antagonist. I had to make sure that I allowed enough time between the end of book 3 and the start of book 4 for the antagonist to logically accomplish his nefarious tasks, which set up the plot for books 4 and 5. Otherwise, the reader would have been left scratching their head.

If you are working on a complicated multi-plot arc, I suggest you take detailed notes on how your timeline fits together. Then, as you edit, make sure all events fit together properly. Otherwise, the reader may come away very confused.

Putting It All Together

Keeping consistent plots and timelines often comes down to keeping good notes. Don’t be afraid to work things out on paper when you need to. Whatever works and helps you to dodge a melting clock showing up in your story.

Keeping good notes is a must for #story consistency. @amrycroft #amediting #WednesdayWisdom… Click To Tweet


Tips Before Hiring an Editor

When you’re finished with your first draft, it’s time to move onto the next phase, which is editing. Now editing is not easy to do and it’s definitely not something we should skimp on. I would tell everyone serious about publishing to hire an editor when their story was ready for one. So what do we need to do before we send our story off to an editor?

  • Know what you need. Do you need a developmental edit or just a line edit? What does your book need? Do you need help with flow, plot inconsistencies, character dimensionality, and plot? Or do you need to focus on sentence flow and word choice? What are your goals for editing and for your book? This will help you research for editors and get the most for your money. Just make sure you communicate your needs with your editor.
  • Self-edit first. I know you’re hiring an outside editor for lots of reasons—objectivity, fresh eyes, and expertise to say the least—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t edit your own work first. This will save you and your editor time and focus and that means saving yourself money. I talk about how to edit and revise here and here. Do a few passes of each. We don’t send our first drafts out to our editor, we send out the polished piece. Make sure your WiP is strong before you send it to your editor.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what you need the most help with will focus your editor on how to help you the most.

sasint / Pixabay

Tips for Self-Editing

  • Take a break. Take at least two weeks off after you’ve finished writing before you begin editing. The longer you wait, the better. You need fresh eyes to see your work with to see the mistakes and weaknesses. Time off also gives you time to contemplate story problems and come up with solutions in your subconscious. Give it at least two weeks before you pick it up again.
  • Edit in passes. Concentrate on different things each run through. Make a list of things to edit for. Pass through developmental edits first. Then spelling, then grammar, then adverbs, etc. Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Read it aloud. Reading aloud will tell you how the story flows, whether your dialogue is working, and whether your sentences are working on a basic level.
  • Read backwards. This will help you pick up on mistakes and will help you focus on word choice. Read through it backwards at least once.

Know what you want to get out of your editing experience and help prepare for editing your story by a professional. Run through a few passes yourself and then research which editors are available and find what you need, whether that’s developmental edits or line edits. Do you need higher order concerns like plot consistencies, character development, chapter order and flow, and enough conflict looked over? Or do you just need sentence level concerns taken care of with line edits? What are your tips for editing and hiring an editor? Share below and happy writing.

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