How to Expertly Edit Your Own Writing

7 Ways to Expertly Edit Your Own Writing

Writing can (and should!) be a creative, uplifting, enjoyable process. However, once the initial writing is complete, the next step is editing your draft. And figuring out how to edit your own writing is usually where the writing process becomes less “fun” and more—let’s be honest—agonizing.

How so? Overly critical authors will be convinced their well-written work is terrible. Meanwhile, overly confident writers will be certain even their least thought-out work is sheer perfection. So how can you effectively edit your own writing?

Here are seven tips to help you objectively improve and edit your own writing:

1. Write Yourself Notes Before You Edit Your Own Writing

Read your complete novel, poem, story, or essay—without editing. Write yourself notes about possible changes you might want to make so you don’t forget them. If you attempt to edit your work as you’re reading it, you’ll get caught up in rewriting and never move forward or see the piece as a whole.

2. Know Your Writing Weaknesses

You’re the only one living in your head, so that makes you the person most likely to catch mistakes specific to you as a writer. Keep a list of clichéd phrases, words you know you overuse, grammar mistakes you’re prone to making, and so forth. When you’re looking at a new piece you’ve written, be sure to check for these red flags.

3. Kill Your darlings, and Show No Mercy

Certain settings, play-on words, or characters that seemed like a great idea when you first started writing may not seem so perfect by the end. When in doubt—cut it out! Be honest with yourself, and don’t shy away from the “delete” key.

4. Go With Your Gut When Editing Your Own Writing

Everything about your finished work seems right… yet it still feels wrong. If you find yourself trying too hard to ignore the inkling that you need to change something, maybe it’s time to listen to your inner critic and take a second look at your work. Even if it means making major changes, trust your writer’s instinct.

5. Create Multiple Rounds of Editing

If the mere thought of editing your own writing makes your skin crawl, break down the editing into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then, in each round of editing, focus on a different aspect: One read-through can be just for punctuation, another can be dedicated to specific characters, and so on. This way, the editing will seem less overwhelming and more like a series of easily completed projects you can actually finish.

6. Put Aside Your Work

Sometimes you need to take a break from the process of editing. Step away from the keyboard, put your manuscript on a shelf, and walk away for a while. Don’t return to your self-editing until you feel refreshed and ready. This way, you can look at your work with a clear mind and clearer eyes.

7. Ask for Help

If none of these tactics works for you, you might want to call in reinforcements. Choose a trusted friend or mentor, and ask him or her to review your work for specific issues: spelling, grammar, continuity, etc. This will ensure you get a helping hand that’s not too heavy-handed. You don’t want outside editors making changes you’re not completely convinced need to occur. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your writing!

While the idea of editing your own writing may seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be.  Inside every writer beats the heart of a re-writer! By following these smart self-editing tips, you’ll be proofing and perfecting your writing like an industry expert. Happy writing!

Tell me your opinion: What techniques have you found most helpful in editing your own writing?

How to Expertly Edit Your Own Writing

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  1. Killing my darlings, once I faced up to the absolute need to do it, was, at first, the most daunting of all the editing tasks or run-throughs, but once I got into it, I found it easier than I’d thought, and the projects are much better for it.

    I always do at least one run-through for wordiness (but not in my posts!) I once cut 40,000 words from a project without cutting a single scene, simply by cutting out all unnecessary words. I’m still not sure I caught all of them, however.

    • “Killing your darlings” is the step where a lot of writers get stuck. You definitely need to gather your moxie in order to start! But you’re right: Once a writer gets into the flow of it, cutting out beloved scenes and words is not so hard after all…for the most part.

      Cutting unnecessary words is a GREAT tip for writers who are self-editing. I bet many other people would be surprised and delighted to get the same results you did!

  2. I agree with steps number one and two. When I editing, I open my document as a PDF. That way I can highlight problem words and add “sticky notes” with reminders for myself on what is wrong with a scene and how I’d like to fix it. I don’t necessarily go into a draft thinking about clichés that I use, but by the end of the story I can see the three or four times where I used the same phrase. Then I use Word’s Find and Replace function to find the phrase earlier in the text and make a note to change it or use a different metaphor.

  3. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Thanks so much for sharing with us today!

  4. thomas h cullen says

    1) Art’s very essence is the subjective, and 2) Be it chapters, or the just very impersonal written template of the novel, the actual capacity to edit with the most honesty is greatly restricted:

    When attempting to edit, keep in mind also these two modes of mind.

  5. Steve Mathisen says

    Clear, concise and to the point. Well done! Thank you for sharing these helpful tips. 😀

  6. Thank you so much for your kind words, Steve! We’re glad to help. Feel free to visit our website for more tips.

  7. I’ve been trying different things. Right now, I’m going back and editing yesterday’s scene before going on to today’s. That will give me a cleaner first draft, but it does eat up my daily time. I go through a complete read after that, then another where I pick at the details. I’m still searching for the most efficient method.

  8. Thank you for these tips. Editing is a lot of work after the “fun part” ends. I only have a blog for now so my edit period isn’t so bad. Even for a simple post piece, it takes me a good hour and I get sucked into re-writing constantly to the point I can’t even look at the thing anymore.

    I have a lot of darling words and phrases to keep an eye on for over use, thanks for pointing this out. Love your site. Have a good day.

  9. Great tips! Reading it aloud definitely helps. So does reading it backwards (last page to first page). But the biggest thing is persistence. Edit the crap outta that thing!
    Thanks for the article 🙂

  10. I am an editing re-writer, so I have to control my urge to recast a sentence and stick to looking for dropped words (a biggie) and shifting tenses (biggie’s twin brother). Thanks for the great tips!

  11. These are all great tips and I shall take them all on board as I write my third novel.

  12. Your number one tip is the most valuable to me. So many times I have started to read the manuscript and got caught up in revising on the spot. Why? Because it’s fun to dig into the story and live there as I write. Taking notes, sometimes using a audio recorder, is the way to go. As always, thanks for the tips. Much success to you.

  13. I’m getting old, and old fashioned I suppose. When I edit, I print out a chapter or two at a time, and get out the red pen, and start slashing and making notes. It’s a long process, however, it allows me to catch a lot of things that I generally miss if I do not have it in my hands.

    Love all the comments!

  14. Thanks for this article! I’m so glad I found it today as I just finished my first draft yesterday and am about to begin the editing process. I love the idea of taking notes without touching anything– I’m convinced this will make the process smoother and more productive.

  15. What I have noticed with a lot of writing, especially self published work, is poor grammar and spelling mistakes. There are so many cheap and even free ways to check this. THESE are the things that should be fixed before one worries about the story working.

  16. I was just discussing this topic with my husband today! I was concerned I don’t have anyone to edit my blog before I post it. For a number of reasons he can’t be the one. I’m confident in my work but worry I’m missing things like punctuation issues. You offered great ideas and it also helped me know I’m on the right course for most of it. I always step away and reread with a fresh look, and I’m not afraid to cut big pieces if my instincts tell me something isn’t right.

    Thank you, I really enjoy your articles. Next up for me…a book maybe!?!


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