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Seven Best Practices of Editing Your Own Work

Create Great HeadlinesNothing kills credibility faster than mistakes in your book.

Before you submit your work to an editor, there are a number of strategies you can use to save time and money.

1. Walk Away From Your Work

Try and give yourself at least a week between writing and editing your manuscript. Something magical happens during this break; it allows you to detach from the work, giving you more clarity and greater perspective. Build this extra time in from the beginning if possible so that you can let it sit before you edit. You’ll be amazed at the objectivity you gain when you stop focusing so intently on the content.

2. Print Out Your Manuscript

Often it’s useful to take a look at your work in a published form (or as close to it as you can get). You may notice problems that didn’t stand out before.

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3. Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

Reading out loud is one of the best things you can do to smooth out the rough edges, especially if you have dialogue in your book. If you trip on the words, or it sounds weird, it isn’t right and you need to fix it.

Ask quality questions while you read:

  • Is it true?
  • Does it forward the conversation?
  • Does it sound believable?’
  • Would a person say this in real life?
  • If I was talking to someone, would I say it in this manner?
  • Does it make sense?

4. Do Your Big Picture Editing First

Edit for structure and content first. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT do a line-by-line edit. Not only is this extraordinarily time-consuming, it will practically guarantee that you will NEVER finish. It’s much more efficient to do your big picture editing first, especially since you may end up cutting out large portions of your content later. Look for:

Chapters or sections that need to be cut –Are they too advanced, confusing or off-topic.
Missing information that you need to add in, like a whole new section or chapter
Scenes or sections that need to be radically revised
Major cuts, additions and rewrites need to happen before you start digging down into the individual sentences and words.

5. Trust your instincts

 “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shock-proof B.S. detector. This is the writer’s radar and all good writers have it.”

-Ernest Hemingway

You know that little voice that say, ‘Hm, that’s not quite right.’ You need to listen to that voice. Put yourself in the reader’s place. If you were reading this book, article or blog for the first time, would it make sense? If not, no matter how well-crafted it is, or how much time it took you to write it, it has got to go. Take no prisoners.

6. Create a Sense of Urgency

Nothing has been more effective in getting my work written and published than an external non-negotiable deadline. I write and edit my work as if there’s a gun to my head. If you don’t give yourself a time limit on editing, it could go on forever.

I create deadlines right before vacations, major Holiday or birthdays. If I want to enjoy my time, I need to get it done. If deadlines don’t work for you, try an external reward for completing on time or financial incentive or penalty.

7. Done is Better than Perfect

No one is going to be able to read the book or blog post you never published. To edit well, you need to eventually stop. I am guilty of this; I’ve found myself putting commas back in that I’ve already taken out, rewriting the same section or paragraph over and over again. Once you’re here, it’s time to save the file and back slowly away from the computer. You are done, whether you’re ready and willing to admit it or not.

For you perfectionists out there, you will find this part especially challenging. Your work is never going to feel perfect. Embrace your imperfection and move on. Once you have pressed send, let it go. It’s time to put your work out into the world.

Obviously nothing is going to replace hiring a professional editor, but you want to present the best version of your manuscript possible. Do as much as you can so that they can focus on more important areas and your work will be stronger for it.

What self-editing tips have you found work for you? Leave a comment below.


Karen Rowe is a professional ghostwriter and runs a full-service writing firm. Check out her blog at


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