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7 Tips To Help You Self Edit Your Writing

After the finished manuscript comes the rewrite.

After the rewrite comes the editing.

It is insanely difficult to self edit our own writing. When we read our own writing, we miss simple mistakes. That’s why we need editors. However, to keep costs down and produce the cleanest copy of your manuscript before you send it to an editor, you need to edit your own writing, as best as possible.

Here are 7 tips to help you self edit your writing


1. Listen to your manuscript. Hear it read back to you.

Hearing your manuscript read back to you helps catch repetitive words, awkward sentences, run on sentences, and grammatical mistakes. When you hear something that doesn’t sound right, stop the recording and go to the place in your manuscript to fix it.

Text-to-speech software suggestion:

  • https://www.naturalreaders.com/
  • https://www.naturalreaders.com/software.html

2. Break up long writing (novels) into different files

For easy maneuvering, edit one chapter at a time. This reduces anxiety from looking at one 60,000 word document that needs editing.

Prepare a checklist. For example:

Edit Chapter 1- Edit, then take a break. When you come back, check it off your checklist. Repeat process for Chapter 2. Take a break after every chapter to regroup. While you are taking your break, think about what happened in the previous chapter and make an honest assessment.

3. Use a word processor (Microsoft work, open office etc) to spell check your writing

Use the spell check feature on your word processor to check your work. Take your time and perform the spell check one chapter at a time, if necessary. For every misspelled word the word processor finds, be careful to replace it with the right word. Read the entire sentence that contains the misspelled word before accepting the correctly spelled word.

4. Give special attention to similar words.

Do a search for similar words in your writing. Read the sentence to make sure you used the correct word.

For word processor applications press [control] & [f] on windows or [command] & [f] on mac. A search box will appear. Search for the following words one at a time. When you find any of them, check for proper usage. Check for proper spelling and meaning, as well.

    • To
    • Too = also or comparative. too much, too  fast or she wanted to go too
    • Two = number
    • There = Location: Over there, there you go, here and there
    • Their = possession. their clothes, their home, their car, their pizza
    • they’re = They are
    • and
    • an
    • your
    • you’re = you are

Sometimes when you mean to say “to”, it is written as too. So, check for these similar but different words in your manuscript to find and fix them.

5. Use strong definitive words and sentences.

Use specific words for descriptions. i.e The blue car vs The cobalt Cadillac. The cobalt Cadillac is a stronger sentence because it is more specific and creates a stronger vision in your reader’s mind.

Mary had red hair. vs  Mary’s cherry red locks.

Use simple sentences with strong descriptions. It should be clear what you want to say.

6. Cut useless lazy words, phrases and sentences.

Don’t use extra words if you don’t have to. For example,

  • in order to = to
  • due to the fact that = because
  • a long period of time = a long time OR a long period
  • he nodded silently = he nodded (I dare you to nod loudly)
  • were going to = would
  • he knew that = he knew
  • all of the things = everything
  • the tragic drowning death =the tragic drowning (if someone drowns, we know they’re dead)
  • her hair hung down = her hair hung (implies down)
  • she spoke with an impatient tone of voice = she spoke with an impatient tone (implies of voice) OR she spoke impatiently (But don’t use too many adverbs. See below.)
  • they stood up = they stood

“Sensory Duh Moments
This is another form of dead wood, one that’s easy to overlook.

He nodded his head (as opposed to nodding his what, elbow?)
She blinked her eyes (as opposed to blinking her toe?)

And so on. I see this kind of dead wood with gestures –  wiping tears, squinting, tasting, and more. If your character is using one of their five senses, great! Just don’t be redundant in pointing out which one; readers can figure it out.”


7. Avoid using Passive Voice

Passive voice happens when things are acted upon instead of doing the acting themselves.

Example: The boy was bitten by the dog.

Just say: The dog bit the boy.

Make it direct. Passive voice adds words to sentences, and fewer words makes a tighter story.

Even better, show the dog biting the boy in a scene. Give us action and conflict!

How to spot passive voice:

WAS. A sentence with the word “was” is a good indicator of passive voice, or a sentence that can be written better.

Here are some simple guidelines:

1) Find a case of “was” and chances are you just found a case of “tell” instead of “show.”

For example: Emily was embarrassed.

Pull out “was” and replace it with vivid details. What does embarrassment feel like?

Emily’s cheeks flushed. In that moment, she wished the ground beneath her would open up and swallow her whole.

Now the reader knows she’s embarrassed, because you just showed it.

Search for instances of whenever your character was something, and give showing details in its place.

2) Yank WAS 90% of the time when it’s connected to an ING verb.

For example: He was sitting. He was talking. He was writing.

Just say: He sat. He talked. He wrote.

Generally speaking, the plain old past tense is more effective. It’s a punchier, stronger verb form.

Sometimes you can find an even stronger verb altogether. Instead of walked, how about “he stormed, he stalked, he sauntered?”

Do a search and find every “was” in your writing. Then replace the “was” with a stronger sentence. Either describe the “was” situation or find a stronger simpler verb.


I will do a post on each individual aspects of self editing like grammar, prose, etc.

There you have it. 7 steps to self edit your writing. Do you have any self editing tips you use? Share them in the comments section below.

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