Self-Editing Tips

Hi, SE Readers. Joan here today. I’ve been in the editing mode of late. It never ceases to amaze me how many mistakes I find. I edit, then I send pages to my critique partners thinking I’ve got a pretty clean copy. They find other things I’ve missed. So, I edit some more.

Whether you are traditionally published or an Indie author, self-editing is an absolute must. There is no substitute for hiring a professional editor, but there are a few tips writers can do before submitting that manuscript to an editor, publisher, or even beta readers.

Look for “crutch” words

Every author tends to rely on what I call crutch words. These are different for every writer, but reading through your finished manuscript will enable you to become familiar with your own. As you review, look for repeated words or phrases. Some of my crutch words are well, perhaps, and so.

There is nothing wrong with any of these words, but I have a habit of starting sentences with well and so. “Well, I planned to go to town,” or “So, what’s the next step?” In both cases, I can eliminate the first word without changing the meaning of the sentence. If you find you overuse a word, but leaving it in some places is a must, then refer to a thesaurus for synonyms.

Look for “red flag” words or phrases

We’re all familiar with passive vs. active voice. Using active voice is always best. Words such as here, there, of, was, were, will be, to be, thought, felt, heard, saw, smelled are often a key to the use of passive voice.

I’m not saying it’s always bad to use these words, but when you see one of them think of ways you can rephrase. Rearranging a sentence often results in changing from passive to active.

Look for “-ly” words

I’m not going to say never use an adverb, but it’s always better to use an active verb. Consider the following sentence. He walked slowly down the sidewalk. Rewrite it as this: He sauntered down the sidewalk.

Look for “dead” and overused words

Words such as that, just, and very, if overused, are known as dead words. Most of the time you can eliminate them and not change the meaning of your sentence. As an example, “This is the most fun that I’ve had in a long time.” Instead say, “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”

I admit to having a hard time removing the word just. But when I say, “He just left,” what am I saying?  Five, ten, fifteen minutes? A better way might be, “He left about fifteen minutes ago.”

Of note, we often use the word just when speaking. Using it in dialogue is okay, but still use it sparingly.

Watch for repeated phrases

Take this sentence: Jason furrowed his brow. There’s nothing wrong with the writing. It shows, rather than tells, the reader Jason is skeptical about something or someone. However, don’t over use the phrase. Too many times with too many characters can turn the reader off.

As you can see, self-editing isn’t hard. The more you write, it becomes easier to spot dead words or crutch words. This isn’t a comprehensive list of editing tips, but taking these few simple steps will make your manuscript much cleaner before you send it to an editor.

49 thoughts on “Self-Editing Tips

  1. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 10: Macro-Level Self-Editing | Story Empire

  2. Wonderful tips Joan. I was onto …ly words and passives, and as Harmony said, I’m watching ing words too. But I hadn’t really considered crutch words. And I know I’ve got a few without even looking at my manuscript! Thanks for the tips.

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Pingback: Self-Editing Tips | Story Empire – WRITE OUTSIDE

  5. Great tips, thanks, Joan. I’m also guilty of utilizing ‘So, and Well,’ in dialogue. I’m currently driving myself crazy (Crazier) with editing my latest book. I put the manuscript aside for a month after the umpteenth read through and it helped me to see a multitude of writing boo-boos when I looked at it through fresh eyes. I’ll be on the lookout for the points you’ve raised before sending it to my editor.

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  6. My new word to be on the lookout for is “had.” Ugh! Self-editing is so important and great critique partners make all the difference. I edit as I write, but even after multiple edits, I’m always finding something I overlooked–and then my CPs find even more, LOL!

    Nice, informative post, Joan!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I decided to go through my first novel and work on it some more. That’s one nice thing about Amazon. You can do that, and still be out there. Anyway, I’ve been going through, questioning every word, sentence, and so forth (and of course looking for the much dreaded typos missed the first, second, fifth, and tenth time around), and I think I’m coming out with a much better product (Yes, that’s what it is. It isn’t a novel, it isn’t a story. It’s a product I’m trying to sell). So far I’ve cut four pages just by being doing this.
    Great post, and thanks for the share.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Isn’t it funny how we can see things so much easier in others’ works than in our own? I always think my work is clean until I get feedback. Invariably, I’m called out for word echoes and crutch phrases. It seems, like me, my characters are always sighing. (Insert sigh here, as I just sighed as I wrote that.) You make two great points, though. 1—always edit your work before you send it out, as it’s not fair to your beta reader/crit partner/editor to have to clean up sloppy work and 2—get a trusted critique group (I’d be lost without mine).

    Great list, Joan.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I’m kind of a fan of using “so & well” when it comes to dialog. People actually speak that way, and it’s easier to digest than guttural sounds like “um” etc. Clovis comes to mind when he thinks he knows something others might not. Maybe I should rethink this.

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  10. Thanks for this! It’s a great quick editing reference guide. I’m in the jungle of editing myself and finding how many times I use my crutch!words of THAT, SO and WELL Is frustrating. I’m also in the process of learning to catch when I’m telling vs showing – something I was also doing too much of.
    Appreciate it!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Another one to watch for is starting too many sentences with ‘ing’ ending words. That’s passive writing too. This opening should only be used once every 10,000 words or so at most. It turns me off when I read a page full of ‘ings’. I have to watch for just and maybe in my writing, lol. Great post, Joan 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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