Self-editing is one of the more important skills to develop as an author. Even if you pay for a professional editor, still learn to edit yourself. Even if you are traditionally published and send your manuscript to an editor, self-editing is critical.
Our experience with different kinds of editors has led us to this conclusion. Some editors excel at content editing (comments on plot, flow, conflict, etc.). Some excel at the grammar (copy edits, proofreading). All editors have their pet peeves and areas they focus on more. Much like parenting, you’ll find a different theory and approach from different editors.
In addition, books sent to publishers are generally expected to be done. Your editor’s job is to tighten it up only. In our experience, unless you are a known name in the writing world, you won’t be doing major re-writes with your editor. You probably won’t even be doing minor re-writes. So you’d better make sure your manuscript is as tight and clean as possible.
Our point is…just one editor isn’t going to catch everything. Plus, paying for editors can get expensive. This makes it important for you to train yourself to catch as much as possible. Doing so will assure you are producing the best manuscript you possibly can.
For a writer just starting out, there are a ton of wonderful self-editing classes you can take online. (Editor Angela James’s self-editing course is one of the best we’ve found, particularly for romance writers, if you’re looking for a recommendation.) Find one or two courses and take copious notes as you go through.
In addition, work with a professional editor at least on your first few manuscripts, and (HERE’S THE KEY) start keeping lists. These lists might be general editing habits–things that you don’t naturally edit out as you go. These lists might be specific to you–what are your bad habits?
MOST IMPORTANT: Keep your self-editing checklist growing. You’ll find new bad habits as you go. Or, after editing the same bad habit for several novels, you learn to edit it out as you go. A new beta reader might spot something in your writing you hadn’t seen before. Keep the list growing!!!
To get you started, here are some examples of categories of edits and the specific edits you might put on your list.
First Chapter Edits
- Work back story in organically
- Purpose of the story is clear in the first chapter
Kill Words Edits
- it was
- it is
- there was
- and then
- Starting sentences with And or But
- -ing words (gerunds)
Deep POV Edits
- Show, don’t tell
- Use actions instead of dialogue tags
- Use all 5 senses regularly
Set the Scene Edits
- Describe a new setting (organically if possible)
- Establish location and time at the beginning of new scenes
- Replace dialogue tags with action that moves the story forward where possible
- Check for too many “saids”
- Don’t have people state each other’s names constantly. In real dialogue people rarely do so.
- Make it clear who is speaking, especially when more than 2 characters in a scene.
Varying Sentences Edits
- Check for too many sentences starting with She/He/They
- Vary sentence length and structure
- Look for run-ons
These are just a few examples of the self-editing lists you might start. Make your self-editing list personal and specific. These lists should fit your genre, your writing style, your habits, your needs. We promise, the longer you cultivate and consistently use a self-editing checklist, the better your writing will become.
In an upcoming post, we’ll review the How To’s of self-editing in greater detail. But, in the meantime, let’s start a joint list for anyone to use. Add your edits (categories or specific edits) in the comments!