Tips for a Productive Self-Edit

I’m editing manuscript two, arduously preparing for my next steps. I’d like to share what works for me during this most-important step of the publishing process.


  • I don’t edit while I write.Writing and editing are two separate functions for me. I try to get the story down all at once, then sweep through it to find logic flaws, or passages that need to be improved. If I try to edit while writing, I hop down rabbit trails that detract from my storyline.
  • I get healthy distance. Ideally, I leave a document for a month or two, then look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes (and I hate to admit this) I don’t ever remember writing passages and dialogue! But my literary amnesia means I have the distance to see the document more like a reader or professional editor would.
  • I read aloud. I really hate this tool, and Ranchman the Superhero always checks on me because he thinks I’m talking to myself for hours. But reading my manuscript aloud helps me hear passages that don’t flow, spot areas that don’t make sense, or discover chapters in which I assume the reader knows my story as intimately as I do. (I encourage you to close your office door so no one thinks you’re losing your mind.)
  • I print the document. As an environmentally aware person, I limit myself to two printed documents, both double-sided. The first edit is double-spaced because there are usually many corrections to be made. The last edit is single-spaced—as I’d see it in book form. I catch SO MUCH MORE when I read my manuscript on paper. Maybe it’s generational…
  • I slice and dice. If in doubt, I take it out. Every word needs to earn its right to be on the page. Kill the document—because I assure you, someone else will.
  • I know SpellCheck is not bullet proof. Don’t just look for the red words during your edit because SpellCheck doesn’t catch homonyms, improper word usage, or missing words. If you’re so deeply in your self-edit that you’re glazing over, get up to do something different. A brisk walk, perusing a magazine, or making dinner works for me.
  • I quit. At some point, I’m not making the document better, I’m just changing it. This is a very difficult line to recognize, but I watch for it and end the edit when I find I’ve crossed it.


Do you have suggestions about how to accomplish a self edit? I’d love to hear them.[subscribe2]

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