Self-Editing: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

by | Feb 2, 2016 | writing

Hello! I don’t know if any of my fellow writers are anything like me, but I do not enjoy self-editing. It is, frankly, a time drag. It is time, I think, that could be better spent creating new work. Imagine if I didn’t have to do any editing? How much quicker could I produce work? Wow! But the fact of the matter is, we all have to self-edit. It is a vital part of getting the manuscript ready for an agent/publisher.


strongerIt only makes your manuscript stronger. It helps you fill in the gaps and catch any mistakes you may have made. It basically presents the best of you to your publisher, a potential publisher, or a potential agent/editor (whomever is reading your work). Especially if you wrote the manuscript a while ago and it has been resting. Or you have learned more about your craft in the meantime through online courses, workshops, or conferences. Bring that back to your work – enhance and hone your art.

requiredIt is required by many publishers before they send it to editing. I know that my publisher at least requires that I do a round of self-editing with their criteria and my own skills before I submit it to them for the three rounds of editing that they utilize (content, line, and proofing). I have been surprised at how many things I have caught between my own self-editing and then self-editing with their criteria. And what they are asking me to look for is good stuff. It’s just stuff that a newbie like me wouldn’t have thought about.


grammarLook for Grammatical Errors. This one is a no-brainer. One of the things I have found is helpful is to run your document through a couple of word processors though. For example, I used to write in LibreOffice. Well, LibreOffice catches a certain set of things. Word will catch a set. Some of these things overlap, but some do not. Word will catch things that LibreOffice did not. So, it behoves me to put my document through Word also. And that’s only one example.

Check for flow. One of the things you can do that is great for checking the flow of the document is to read it out loud. You would be amazed at the number of things you can catch that way. I know, it doesn’t seem that it would make that big of a difference, but it does. As you go through, check to make sure you’re not repeating words. Make sure you’re varying sentence beginnings. These are things that help with flow.

inconsistentDouble check for inconsistencies or content flaws. Be watchful for things you may have missed when writing. You really have to have eyes like a hawk when it comes to this. You know in your head how all of it works out, but try to look at it as a reader. If it’s not clear in the document, it’s not clear. If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. A reader can’t ask you for explanations.

Tighten where you can. There needs to be some flow to your manuscript, but it also need not be extraneously wordy. Jerry Jenkins gives wonderful tips about tightening, especially dialogue. You can check out his blog here. Extra words are sometimes that – extra words.

There are more, but these are the biggies. I also strongly encourage you to get more eyes on the work. Be that a critique group or a critique partner. Someone else to look at it and give you honest feedback. And that, my friends, is my two cents worth on self-editing. Happy writing!

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Sara R. Turnquist