Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Art of Self-Editing, Part 2

by Henry McLaughlin @RiverBendSagas

Last month, we began exploring the process of self-editing, of getting our writing in the best shape we can before sending it out to a professional editor.

Notice, I didn’t say before submitting it to an agent, a publishing house, or self-publishing it. 

There’s an old saying from the judicial system: He who represents himself, has a fool for a client. In the same way he who edits himself alone, while he may not be a fool, is not preparing his work to be the best it could be.

More on this later. Let’s return to the process of self-editing.

Have the Computer Read the Manuscript

Most computers now come with the ability to speak written text. There are also apps available. Having my computer read the manuscript to me may sound weird, but it really is helpful. It’s one of the most effective tools in my self-editing toolbox.
One of the reasons is glitches and errors are easier to spot as we follow along on our printed manuscript. 

Two, the computer is going to speak exactly what we wrote, it won’t fill in missing words, it won’t ignore typos we might miss with our own eyes. It won’t say what we meant to write.

Three, the computer’s tone helps each word stand out. I’ve caught many an error I missed in my own readings because it clunks like an out of tune piano.


Yep. Now is the time to rewrite. This is the beginning of our second draft. We’ve accumulated a lot of data through the previous steps. Now we apply the corrections and tweaks. This is when we rewrite; add the scenes and chapters we need to improve the story. It’s also when we cut the scenes, chapters, and characters that don’t add anything to the story.

This is the time when we identify our “favorite” words. Scrivener can show us our most frequently used words. Other self-editing programs can do the same. For example, in one of my manuscripts I discovered I liked the word “twinge.” A lot. I was able to eliminate many of its appearances and replace it with stronger words. Another step to take in this phase is to identify passive verbs, adverbs, and words that don’t add anything to the story. 

One of my pet peeves is the word “that.” We all use it. Many times we don’t need it. I search the manuscript for “that.” When I find one, I take it out of the sentence. If the sentence still makes sense, I don’t need it. 

Sometimes, word usage actually slows our story by getting into telling and it distances our point-of-view. For example, when editing I frequently find authors writing, “he watched her cross the room,” my comment is, “Don’t TELL us he watched, SHOW us what he saw. We’ll know he had to see it.” I also call this “trust the reader to get it,” or RUE: resist the urge to explain.

Look for words such as watched, look, felt, heard and many others. See if they’re hindering the flow of the writing because we’re asking the reader to read unnecessary words.

Next week we’ll explore the use of beta readers and when it’s time to seek an outside editor.

What’s been your experience with self-editing. What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?


Henry’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest.

Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers.

Connect with Henry on his blogTwitter and Facebook.


  1. My first writing friends weaned me on RUE and another one is GWS: Goes Without Saying. :)

  2. Thank you. I learned something new. I'm going to add GWS to my repertoire.