Self Editing Step-by-Step

Completing a manuscript is hard work. BUT it doesn’t end there… there’s still revisions and edits to do, & that’s before you give it over to your editor to pull apart. Self editing can seem like a daunting task when you look at the big picture. You have to read through a novel that’s at a minimum 60,000 words – a novel you’ve put your soul into, along with countless hours, & now you have to be very critical of it. Not to mention the different types of edits involved: developmental, line editing, copy editing, proof reading… But don’t freak out just yet. I’ve got some tips to make it easier, taking it step by step.

Here’s What You’ll Need…

  • Printed copy of your MS
  • Folder to keep it in
  • 4 different coloured pens
  • Post it notes
  • Notepad/book

Now there are two ways you can go about self editing depending on what you consider easier for you – either chapter by chapter, completing one before moving on, OR as a whole, each type of edit for the whole novel then going on to the next.

Step One…

Once you’ve got your editing kit all sorted, you need to prep. Decide whether you will do a chapter at a time or the whole novel, then make a key. Each kind of edit gets a different coloured pen. If your developmental edit is green then draw a little green box on your front page & write developmental edit etc.

You complete each edit in this order… DEVELOPMENTAL, LINE, COPY & finally PROOF. You may not need to worry about proofing as much as the others as more edits will be made by your professional editor after your self edit. The proof is only mandatory right before publication, so you can miss out this step if you want to, but it’s still good practise to proof your work. The more edits you make yourself, the more polished it is, the better before giving it to your editor.

Step Two…

Now you’ve got to break down each edit. The developmental edit covers setting, timeline, characterisation, plot, story structure, pacing, presentation & marketability. You won’t notice every little thing if you try to do it all at once. Break down each type of edit into it’s main sections…

Line Editing

  • Flow
  • Transition
  • Tone
  • Style
  • Redundancy
  • Vocabulary
  • Narrative

Copy Editing

  • Grammar
  • Usage
  • Consistency
  • Typos
  • Spelling
  • Syntax

Proof Reading

  • Formatting
  • Final Typos
  • Odd Sentences
  • Incorrect Word Splits

Keep your notebook & post its to hand while you are editing. This will be especially helpful during the developmental stage as this edit usually involves bigger changes than the others. Having somewhere to make notes will allow you to jot down what’s needed – a new scene, more dialogue, more ‘screen’ time for a certain character. Note down what’s needed, where it’s needed & the kind of things you’ll need to include (for example my characters need a whole new chapter for establishing the breakdown of their relationship before it can be built up again).

Step Three…

Complete your editing notes for each type of edit before moving on to making the changes on your computer document. If you’re going through the whole novel at once, I would make the computer changes after each edit. Otherwise you’ll end up with so much work to do after completing all your edits & could make it more overwhelming.

I prefer to edit chapter by chapter. For chapters you can afford to complete all four types of edit before moving on to your computer changes, as completing one chapter is much quicker than a whole novel, & the edits will still be fresh in your mind. Keep going with this system until you’ve editing your entire novel!

If at any point you’re feeling overwhelmed, confused or just plain panicked. Take a breath. Speak to another writer – there are plenty in writing groups on Facebook, the writing community on Twitter or you may know some writers personally. The important thing to remember is there are plenty of other writers doing the same thing. We all panic, we all get burnt out at times. Step back & regain the perspective – it’s hard work but it’s all going to be so worth it.

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