How to Self-edit

How to Self-edit
March 14, 2017 1 Comment For Authors, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

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.

[bctt tweet=”Self-editing? Edit in passes. Focus on one problem at a time. #ourwriteside #amediting #writingtips” username=”hijinkswriter”]

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


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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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