Self-editing: What are your options?


by Katie McCoach

You’ve finished the first draft of your novel, now it’s time for revisions. We know that you’ll need a professional editor soon, but before that, what can you do on your own? Revisions need to start somewhere, so here are a few options for editing your own work:

  1. Take a break – this is important for any writer to remember. After you write that first draft, give yourself time to put a little distant between you and that crazy journey of writing you just took. I recommend a month or longer, if possible, but at least 2-3 weeks. You want to allow your eyes and mind to refresh. When you return to your work again, you’ll be able to see more than you could before.
  2. Read your writing out loud – I go into detail about this on a past blog post, but this is a very important step. I recently did this with my own work and was blown away at not just sentence flow that needed work, but also I found my own interest waning in certain sections and I didn’t want to be reading those pieces aloud anymore. This is a great way to tell what is working and what needs some fine-tuning.
  3. The Shrunken manuscript – I heard about this recently on a Write to Done guest blog and loved this idea. The idea is to reduce the font size and white space of your MS so you have each chapter fitting on 1-2 pages, then you print the entire thing out so your now 200 page MS is 30 pages, then lay the 30 pages out on the floor in front of you. This way you can see all the chapters before you and begin to notice character patterns, plot points, etc.
  4. Read your MS slowly and critically – It’s easy as the author of your work to skim sentences because you know what’s next, but I encourage you to read the MS in full slowly and carefully. Really take your time and be sure you are reading every word, every dialogue section, and look at your work with a critical eye. This is another insurance that you are catching all the errors you can before sending to an editor.
  5. Writing groups – Join a writing group, whether local in person or virtual, and share your work with the group. Find a group that truly supports one another and offers constructive criticism. They are out there, and they are immensely helpful. Don’t limit yourself to a group only in your genre either – getting the opinions of writers from all genres and writing forms will offer a variety of opinions and insight.

Self-editing is a very important part of the editorial process, however keep in mind this doesn’t replace the work of a skilled and professional developmental editor, copy editor, and proofreader. Maximizing your own editing process will be better for you and for your editors because the more errors and story flaws you leave for an editor that you could have address on your own means their time is being spent fixing or working on those items instead of diving in to the nitty gritty.



Guest post contributed by Katie McCoach. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She’s had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing, visit her blog and be sure to also follow her on Twitter.

34 thoughts on “Self-editing: What are your options?

  1. Great article. I appreciate all the tips. I am smack dab in the middle of the revision fest and finding its laborious but totally worth it when I clean up a botched paragraph or sentence. Fixing plot stuff too. Wish me luck. J


  2. I think reading your work out loud is important, but I don’t self-edit. I tried and felt that I was better off having a professional editor take a stab at my manuscript. Everyone is different though and self-editing works for some writers. Nice post! 🙂


    1. Everyone has a different process, that’s for sure! Taking steps to make your manuscript as clean as possible before sending to the editor is really helpful for everyone involved. That way the editor can spend their time focusing on the deeper issues, not things that could have been quickly caught before it reached them.


    1. Haha! It’s not so much to be able to read your work, but to see in in a big-picture sort of light. A quick glance at the project as a whole. It can help with seeing how the pages look; is there too much white space? long, chunky paragraphs? etc.


  3. so much yes to the reading out loud! read in best narrating voice, and read dialogue in the characters’ voices! if anything sounds unnatural, then change it 😀 great post!


  4. I found being part of a writing group invaluable in the editing process. Reading aloud is good, but reading aloud to an audience is even better. Printing out the MS on a small scale is a brilliant tip. I’ll try it next time – just hope my spectacles are up to the challenge!


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