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8 Quick Self-Editing Tips

Before you hand over your manuscript to the editor, there are some things you can do yourself to improve your draft. Run through these self-editing tips to save time and money…

1. Let it breathe

It’s essential that you allow yourself enough time away from your work in order to read it as objectively as possible. When applying our self-editing tips, we recommend letting your manuscript and also your edits rest for at least three weeks before going back. This way, you’re giving your story the best chance possible of being sculpted into the perfect final draft.

 2. Read aloud

Words are magical things. They alter when read aloud. They dance, skip or stagnate depending on their rhythm. Consequently, this can tell you a lot about whether a particular word or sentence needs changing.

Speaking your wrords aloud is one of the most immediate self-editing tips you can carry out. Plus, it’s so easy! You’ll know instinctively if something doesn’t sound quite right. Make use of this exercise particularly with areas of dialogue in your novel. If it doesn’t sound fluid, re-structure the words.

 3. Read it to someone

As well as reading your story aloud, it’s paramount that you read it to someone. Choose a friend or family member, or perhaps even a crowd of people at an open mic event, to test out your words.

This is particularly appropriate for any scenes that you want the audience to feel a certain emotion from. For example, if no one laughs at the scene you recite for your comic play, or if no one seems bothered by the fact a man with a gun has just entered the sleeping protagonist’s bedroom, then you should probably go back to looking at mood in your writing.

If you’re finding the idea of sharing your work terrifying, take a look at our handy tips on How To Conquer Your Self-Publishing Fears.

 4. Print it off

Reading off a screen and reading a piece of paper are two very different things. For some reason, when scrolling through your document on the computer you don’t notice any typos. Then, when printed off, you realise you’ve (horror) used the wrong ‘there’, or typed a word twice.

We’re not up to date with the science behind this, perhaps computers just want you to fail, but it’s well worth scribbling your notes on a hard copy of the draft, just to be safe.

 5. Be merciless

If writing is the painstakingly careful stacking of a tower of Jenga, then editing is the hammer that comes and knocks it to pieces. From this, you build a new structure. Everybody’s first draft is poor, fact. Editing is where your novel is truly born.

If a part of your story simply isn’t working, then, however much you love it, get rid of it and, ‘kill your darlings’, as Stephen King advocates. This is easier to accomplish if you’ve given yourself enough time away from the manuscript to make these decisions objectively.

 6. Colour code

One of the best ways to create, even at the planning stage is to think visually. Writing software like Scrivener allows you to colour code various sections to save time and keep you on course.

Most of the time, editing isn’t as clean cut as you want it to be. Even if you are being merciless with the delete button, there might also be parts that require further thought or research. By visually marking these, you can collate them easily or use it as a reminder for when you revisit.

 7. Computer hacks

As mentioned before, Scrivenor has many useful writing and drafting tools designed specifically for writers. You can make use of their corkboards to help you brainstorm and you can also access each chapter of your novel easily without all that scrolling.

Another often forgotten hack to use is the searching tool on your computer. Hit Ctrl F or, if you have a Mac, apple F, to open up the search box. Whatever word or phrase you type in, it will scan the entire document for all the times it appears. This is one of the best self-editing tips to save time. For example, if there’s a word you use too often, need to find something quickly, or need to check how you spelled a character’s name, you can find it in an instant.

 8. Save for later

After ‘killing your darlings’, it’s important to not only understand why it’s not worked, but also keep it in case it just hasn’t found the right home yet.

Don’t save every little thing you delete – you’d end up on a documentary programme about hoarders – but if it’s a strong scene that you can’t part with, save it for later. This very scene might inspire a whole new book, or a blog post, or a poem, and you may regret throwing it away.


These top self-editing tips will help you hone your perfect manuscript. This is just a preliminary step, however. You should always get beta readers and a professional copy-editor to look at your work.

The benefit of applying these self-editing tips is that it inevitably saves you money. For example, if your editor charges by the hour and you’ve already gone through and cleaned up the little errors, you could save yourself a lot of time and expense.

What’s the biggest editing obstacle you’re dealing with at the moment? Let us know in the comments below, or, alternatively, reach out to us.

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