The Most Useful Tips for Self-Editing Manuscripts


First, let me say this. Do not make the mistake of taking a highly self-edited manuscript to publishing vs a marginally self-edited + a mediocre paid-for editing manuscript. ALWAYS factor a budget (even if a small one) into your publishing scheme and always plan to pay for editing (even if it’s just $100 to a 4th year English Major).

The thing you are really looking for is a more objective perspective. In talking to editors at various conferences and conventions one thing they talk about is “distance from the story.” Nobody knows your story like you do–I’ve often discovered that what editors say is true about a story: you read what you meant to write, especially if you wrote it recently. Often editors and veteran writers talk about “putting a manuscript in a drawer” until they are ready to come back to it. If you’ve edited, critiqued, or beta read for fellow authors you may understand what I’m talking about… it’s easier to spot flaws when the text is new to you or when you are unfamiliar with it. Cold detachment is the best way to have that objectivity, so here are five techniques to make your self-edits better.

Take some time to get distance from the manuscript. The longer the better, in essence–although you still want to be somewhat familiar with the story. You just don’t want your mind filling in the blanks between the words with pieces that might not actually exist. You also want some of the plot points to be relatively knew to your mind (surprise yourself with the plot twists your previous self wrote, if possible.) You are too close to the story to begin editing write away upon completion. Like a good stew you’ve got to let it simmer on the back-burner for a bit.

Use a different font. Anything to make it less familiar to your brain is going to help you spot errors and inconsistencies. I’d recommend Courier New or another monospaced font. When every letter of the word shifts to the same width it can change the structure of the text and make your mind have to process the “sight words” rather than just fill-in-the-blanks.

Read the text aloud. I use this one a lot. It really does help me spot errors, especially in line editing. Although it’s not a perfect method, it never fails to help me discover spots where I thought I wrote something but omitted words wholesale.

Work from a printed copy. Sometimes holding it, seeing it, and feeling the text can add a new dimension. It also can help to give you some scratch paper to jot notes in the margins, highlight, etc. Personally, I prefer to do this and often load a Work In Progress into my Createspace account and print WIP versions of a novel for my beta readers and then encourage them to write on the pages, highlight, and cross out words so that I can make a stronger version at my next pass.

Read the paragraphs backwards to forwards. Hop to the end of a chapter and work backwards paragraph by paragraph. This helps isolate the text and disrupts the story continuity enough to help you locate errors and make corrections, but not so much that the editing can’t done.

I hope these tips help! Follow, share, and comment!

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