5 Tips to Self-Edit Your Novel Effectively

Posted January 9, 2014 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 3 Comments


Writing and publishing aren’t the same. If you think publishing is a button you click after you write that gloried “The End,” you’re wrong—and you’ll probably pay for it later with cranky reviews over a poorly edited book.

The first step in your publishing process is when you get down and dirty with your own manuscript. You’re the first line of defense.

1. List everything that could potentially need work

Yeah. Nothing you write is perfect, so don’t think you can sail through the editing process. Your job is to assume your book is crap and that you need to find ways to make it the best it can possibly be.

Here’s what you’d want to look at: plot holes, character development, world building, consistency, internal structure (sections or chapters), content development.

Nit-picky items like typos, grammar, or punctuation should also be addressed, but they shouldn’t be your only focus. That’s only half the equation.

2. Outline your book as it is

Even if you created an outline before writing, outline your book as it’s written. Outlines are helpful. If you’re writing fiction, an outline serves as an at-a-glance timeline of your plot. With non-fiction, an outline helps you visualize connections between sections or point out internal structure issues.

Outlining your book provides a good overview on how well you executed your idea. You’ll have the chance to identify additional problem areas. Add them to the list you started.

3. Print it off

Computers and their software make writing faster and more efficient, but viewing your manuscript on the screen isn’t always conducive to editing. Having your manuscript in tangible form gives you a better handle on the self-edit.

Seeing it in a different format forces your brain to process your writing in a different way. This means you’ll catch more mistakes than if you read it on a screen. (Other options include loading it on your ereader or reading it aloud.)

Grab a pen and mark up your manuscript with notes and sections to revise. When you go back into your word processing document to incorporate your edits, you’ll also give yourself additional critical thinking time to determine what you want to change.

Your first change isn’t always the best option.

4. Use multiple editing passes to tackle one problem or area at a time

That list you created? Turn each item into an editing pass. And though it sounds daunting, you’re more likely to catch and fix issues if you target specific problems.

If I spend the first pass of a copy edit fixing mistakes like punctuation errors and grammar mistakes, I miss bigger issues like word choice, clarity, and consistency, which I then have to address in another pass. Your brain can’t do everything at once. If you expect it to, your self-edit is going to be ineffective.

5. Track your changes

Though Microsoft Word is real pain the ass sometimes, the ability to track your changes is worth the annoyance.

WHY track your changes?

You don’t want to lose your original. If you ever want to refer to the original or if you want to revert back a few revisions because it was better the way it was, you’ll need to track your changes.

If you’re distracted by all the markup, fret not. Change what shows (the default is “final with markup”) to “final”—meaning it’ll look like you’re not tracking changes at all.

To see how your manuscript evolves—and also separate what happens at each stage of the editing process—you might even consider creating a new document at every stage. This preserves not only your original, but also the changes you made.

What tips do you have for the self-edit process?

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3 responses to “5 Tips to Self-Edit Your Novel Effectively

  1. I like what you say in number two. Outlining your book after you have started writing can be super helpful. Sometimes you deviate from your original outline far enough that you just can’t get back to it without ruining the current story. That is one of the reasons I can’t outline before I start. I have to just sit and write, then start developing something when I have some ideas down.

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