Writer Wednesday—How to Self-Edit

Before you send off your manuscript to an agent or publisher, you must participate in editing, also known as “pulling out one’s hair,” “screaming and crying as you continually hit the wrong keys,” and “repeatedly beating your head against the desk while yelling obscenities.”

Many writers have given up at this point.

First, send your ms off to beta readers. Their job is to read the story—THE STORY. Not to edit, not to proofread, but to read. You know, like a book.

I’ve covered this in other posts, and in my marketing book. So, once you get comments back from them, you might make adjustments to the ms. Or not. Up to you.

Second, run MS Word spelling and grammar check. Yeah, I know, it’s nearly worthless. Some of the time. But you can make adjustments, like adding words to the dictionary (for example, I’ve edited books with Gaelic and Hebrew lines; thanks, Debbie!); or perhaps you have a character name with an odd spelling.

You can also set options in Word to keep things consistent, like ellipses and dashes and hyphens and spacing—as in between sentences. If you justify that right margin, the ms looks a lot cleaner. And more professional.

Third, go over that ms line by line, word by word. Say stuff aloud if you have to; some recommend reading the entire thing aloud, but I think that might be overkill. Pretend you’re a regular reader. If you notice something weird, so will your readers. Fix it.

You may notice that you repeat the same mistakes, over and over again. A reader will see them too. Or maybe you use the same word, over and over again. Yes, a reader will catch that too. If you think you’re doing that, do a simple “find” in Word and see how many times it comes up. You might be surprised. You might be embarrassed . . .

The fourth thing you could do is send it off to an editor. Please, please, make darn sure that editor is actually competent. I can’t tell you how many mss I get that are FULL of errors, basic mistakes like two spaces between sentences and periods outside quotation marks, the wrong words capitalized, italics used incorrectly, etc., etc.

Before you pay someone, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. In order to accomplish this, of course, YOU have to know the mechanics of writing. Otherwise, you won’t see the problem.

The last thing to do is check the submission requirements and make sure your ms complies. It doesn’t matter if you think those recommendations are silly, the agent or publisher does not, I assure you. They are there for a reason, and you may not know the reason. Doesn’t matter. Make.Sure.It.Complies.

Writing is an art, a craft. You don’t just sit down and type something, not even 80K words of something. I’ve had people ask me why writing a book takes so long; they figure they can type 120 words a minute, so a book should only take a week or so, right?

And then you have to fix it, aka, self-editing.



4 comments on “Writer Wednesday—How to Self-Edit

  1. Great post. Now if we could only do it that way….”:D Btw, Robin, I never did totally understand the logic of ‘the iron rule’ of placing only one space at the end of a sentence, for alas, when the text is eventually fully justified, arbitrary additional spaces are added everywhere to enable equal and even margins. Just asking where that rule originated. ~R


    • It originated with the onset of computers, Raymond. Computers adjust text differently: a typewriter uses one space per letter; a computer sometimes uses less than one space per letter. And yes, justification can create “spaces,” but not really – it could create a 1.1 space between a couple words, or more, or less.


  2. DugganPubs says:

    Good points, except that people should run spell check BEFORE sending the manuscript to anybody, even beta readers. I run spell check after every writing session, as it’s the quickest way to catch typos — not so great for actual spelling, though. I always find it amazing that anyone sends out manuscripts without proofing.


    • Of course. But again, I don’t cover beta reading in this particular post, although I do mention that writing is a craft and that one should know/learn the basics. That includes spelling and grammar, naturally.


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