On Self-Editing: Three Tips in Three Minutes
Updated: Sep 28
You know you need to self-edit.
I know it.
Your nosy neighbor knows it.
Editing is important because we are not perfect, especially when we're trying to translate our vision and message into words that the reading world can digest. But the path to a fully revised draft manuscript can feel like an impossible journey. One where you need a tent but have a tarp; need a fire, but have a match; need a meal, but have only a rod and a reel.
When you're entrenched in the writing of your novel, it's easy to overlook even obvious mistakes. Your focus is on the mind-dump, on getting the words out. And it should be. Because the writing is for, well, writing. Editing is a separate skill.
Separating your writerly self from your editorial self is a practice in patience and tenacity and requires unwavering focus to the task at hand.
First, the bad news: You're likely to spend twice as much time self-editing and revising your draft than you did writing the darned thing.
The good news? It is during revisions that the craft of writing is revealed.
Now that you've finished your first draft, it can feel important—necessary even—to jump right into self-editing, which gets us to the first tip.
Take a break.
While writing your novel, you probably had madman moments. You know the ones. The thought came to mind and you just sat down and free-wrote (like a madman) until you'd reached the end of that thought. Then a new idea came and you kept going. When you're in madman mode, mistakes happen on the reg. But in order for you to overcome the madman living in your head, you need a pair of fresh eyes.
You only gain fresh eyes when you gain a new perspective. And you can gain a new perspective on your work when you take a break.
Whether it's a week, or—better—a month, taking a break from your manuscript will allow you to approach revisions with fresh eyes and new ideas.
Make a plan.
Have you ever looked at a task and become immediately overwhelmed with the size and scope of the thing? Same.
But have you ever looked at a task, broke it down into actionable goals? Then checked off those goal-crushed boxes one at a time?
While it can feel like a bit like you must do everything in your manuscript all at once, I don't recommend you do this. That would be like a building a whole house when you've only just learned to use a hammer.
To avoid the overwhelm of tackling all the things in your manuscript at once, break down your revision goals into manageable chunks and focus on only one piece at a time. You can use Stepping Stones for Successful Self-Edits or try another method, but always, always break down your manuscript edits into actionable steps.
You can thank me later.
When we read aloud, we are forced to slow down and articulate the text one word at a time. You may be amazed at the number of errors the brain reads over but that snag on the tongue. But beyond the errors, reading aloud will help you assess the pace and tone of your writing.
To smooth clunky language or fix awkward sentence constructions that may otherwise trip up readers, read aloud or ask someone, a fellow writer, family member, even a writing coach, to read your manuscript to you.
And if you find yourself in a post-apocalyptic environment where you may literally be the last human standing in a sea of robot overlords, well ask a robot to read to you. Microsoft Word even has a handy read-aloud feature.
Do you have self-editing practices that work well for you? Leave a comment and let your fellow writers know about it!