The Art of Self-Editing: How do I start?

You just finished a book.  You’re excited, but now you figure you need an editor.  You go online and you start searching.  You’ve already made one crucial mistake.  No matter what editor you find and what their rates are, you will have to pay more if your manuscript needs more work.  Before you seek the help of a professional, go through your manuscript and make sure that you have done as much editing as you can on your own.

I have talked to some authors in the past who insist that they can’t even reread their own work.  As an editor, I often remind writers that the best thing you can do for your work right off the bat is to do as much editing as you can before you turn it over to an editor.  In the end, it will save you money.

Get comfortable, turn off the television and muster as much patience as you can, especially if you are the type of person who gets tired of reading your own writing.  Reading out loud is highly recommended.  You will hear the story and you will be more likely to hear—and therefore catch—mistakes.  You will hear the things that don’t sound right.

Pretend it’s not your story.  Pretend you’re reading a friend’s book.  Disconnect yourself from the story; this helps when you’re trying to catch mistakes that might otherwise elude you.  Concentrate on copy editing.  This is when you examine each line for mistakes that make your manuscript more difficult to read.

Keep an eye out for unnecessary words, words that are in the wrong order, punctuation errors and of course the mistakes that cause someone to misread what you have written.  This means keeping an eye out for modifiers; if a sentence is written incorrectly, you run the risk of sending the wrong message to your readers.

Now you have some idea of what you’ll be looking for when you start editing.

There are many books out there to help you edit your work.  Here are a few that are especially helpful.

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile

By Noah Lukeman

This book is wonderful; it shows writers how to avoid the common mistakes that lead to rejection.

I had a copy and loved it, but I lent it to someone–I cannot remember who–and I haven’t seen it since.  So it must be quite a good book!

A Writer’s Reference

By Diana Hacker

This is a great reference book.  It has sections on composing and revising, effective sentences, word choice, and more.  I have an earlier edition, but even the older versions are very useful!

In continuing articles within this series, I will discuss numerous subjects within the field of self-editing your work.  Feel free to comment with any questions, concerns, or suggestions you may have.

This article was previously published as part of a series on various literary websites.  I am re-posting them here so that my readers can benefit from them.  Stay tuned for the next installment!


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