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Self-Editing Tips

July 18, 2010 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified November 18, 2011

Every writer can be an editor. At least to a certain degree.

A few quick tips for self-editing…

  • Edit from hard copy. Mistakes, unintended repetition, overused sentence construction can all jump off the page of a hard copy.
  • Edit in a location different from where you write. Stimulate the mind with sounds and sights different from those of the writing environment. Stir your mind to look for differences in the room and on the page.
  • Be free with your pen or pencil. Cut out long sections that go nowhere or that add nothing to plot or character. Delete pointless repetition. Cut out scenes that slow forward momentum. (You can always add back anything you take out.)
  • Remove or change favorite words. We all have words that we repeat in every piece we write. Learn your favorite words and go after them ruthlessly.
  • Cut down on adverbs and adjectives. Make your nouns and verbs do heavier duty and get rid of modifiers that bloat the work.
  • Ignore the manuscript for a while. If you’re not under deadline, allow the piece to breathe before editing. Go on to another story, read something new, start a project around the house. Get the story out of your head for a while. For weeks if you have the time. If you give it enough time, the bloated phrasing and poor rhythms and plot threads to nowhere will jump out at you when you come back to edit.
  • Delete character names. Check for overuse of names, especially in dialogue. The repetition of names can cause a story to drag.
  • Check first words of consecutive paragraphs (and sentences). Every paragraph shouldn’t begin with he or she or Elvis.
  • Look for unanswered questions. Read the first three to five chapters and make a list of problems your characters face. Then find the places in your manuscript where the problem is solved. If there is no solution, write one. Or get rid of the problem. Also, make sure that the solution is sufficiently satisfying for the level of the problem. You may intend one problem to play a large part in the story, but by the time you get to it, other story elements may have taken over. Adjust problems and solutions so their weights match.
  • Read the story once as a reader would, to see if it entertains. If it doesn’t, try to determine where the storytelling went off track and then make corrections.

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Find an expanded version of Self-editing Tips on my video page.

Check out the very detailed Editor’s Checklist for specific editing suggestions for the major elements of fiction.

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Tags:     Posted in: Editing Tips

3 Responses to “Self-Editing Tips”

  1. Vivian A says:

    Excellent advice, Beth. I like the idea of doing the editing in a different location, I hadn’t tried this- now on the program.

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