Writing Tips – How to self-edit a book #amwriting #editing #books #writingtips

While nothing can replace an editor, there is certainly a lot you can do yourself before it reaches a professional’s hands to get your work into shape.

And your beta readers will thank you!

I’m definitely not claiming that this is the perfect way to self-edit, nor the only way! But this is what works for me.

What’s wrong with just reading it?

I am brilliant at spotting typos and editing errors in other people’s work.

I am utterly useless at spotting them in my own!

I do know a number of ‘lucky’ individuals who can spot what’s wrong in their own work…but this is not me. Once I have submerged myself in my story, I am pretty much blinded to a myriad of problems from that awkward sentence to that typo to using the wrong word!

So, I have an editing routine, and that forces me to explore my work in a way that brings the issues to the surface.

What tools do I use?

Word: I use Scrivener for writing, but I still copy and paste the manuscript into word between each round of editing.

Why do I like Word? Because Word still picks up a good number of simple defects, and if you are anything like me, you only need to look at a sentence to introduce a typo.

And it takes no more than 15-30 mins to check the whole manuscript!

Hemingway: Simple to use and cheap! I bought the desktop version, but you can use it on-line for free.

Why do I like Hemingway? It’s great for picking up passive voice, adverbs, and unnecessary words. A quick pass through Hemingway a chapter at a time clears out a lot of garbage from my work.

Grammarly: Simple to use, but with costs (monthly / quarterly / yearly subscription).

Why do I like Grammarly? It picks up an interesting set of errors that complements the Hemingway findings. For example word choice / better word pair / wrong word. I have also found it to be reasonable Β on grammar. I will do a more in-depth review of Grammarly in another blog post. It’s excellent for that first draft!

The sequence of editing.

The high-levelΒ activities

  • Read the whole manuscript looking for plot holes (optional)
  • Word
  • The spreadsheet – list of words and phrases that are my personal weak spots
  • Hemingway
  • Grammarly
  • Read and correct a chapter at a time
  • Listen
  • Read the whole manuscript

Let’s get into the details…

I have managed to stop myself editing-as-I-go, which means the chapters can be in a pretty grim state when I start editing.

There is a temptation to jump into reading at this point. But again, I have found it more effective to get on with my editing routine. Things that are missing in the overall plot do still become apparent even without doing a whole read, BUT, I’m going to put it as an optional here as long as the first read doesn’t turn into a random editing session.

1. (Optional) Read the whole book looking for plot holes. No editing yet!

2. Search for the words and phrases on my spreadsheet. So what is my mysterious spreadsheet you might be wondering. Well, it’s a list of words and phrases I have noted to search for in my work.

For example crutch words like ‘just’.

There are over 200 different words and phrases I look for!

It’s not always a seek and destroy, some of the words or phrases just lend themselves to a poorly written sentence. Whenever I find them I can reassess that sentence and tighten it up. I’ll give you a couple more of my examples, however, I would suggest that any such ‘seek’ list is a personal list a writer builds up over time in relation to their own writing style and their own weak spots when drafting

  • Nodding, shaking head and other visuals. We all have our favourites, and most real people nod far less than you realize. Do a bit of people watching, you will be surprised!
  • Feel, feeling, felt – what is it they are feeling and is there a stronger word choice that will cover this (he felt sorry for them = he pitied them). Some of these may also indicate telling, such as ‘he looked angry’. I also search for ‘look, looked, looking’!

3. Put the whole manuscript through Word. By the time I have finish hacking the sentences about it’s usually in a bit of a state and a quick 30 mins to run it through word again will help.

4. Hemingway:Β Chapter at a time. Looking for passive voice, unnecessary words, adverbs.

5. Grammarly: Chapter at a time. Looking for passive voice, grammar, better words, wrong words etc.

6. Word again! Because I have an amazing ability to reintroduce spaces or typos!

7. Listen using text to speech: OMG this is the absolute best for spotting those sneaky missing words or even wrong words where autocorrect has jumped in.

8. Read a chapter at a time. REPEATEDLY. And keep adjusting those awkward sentences. Until I am 90% happy. (I say 90% because otherwise I would never finish!)

  • I also check for unnecessary backstory at this point…if in doubt hack it out!

9. Word again!

10. Text to speech again!


Now I can read the whole book from start to finish: By this point most (but certainly not all) errors will have gone such that I can at least read it with a level of flow. If you are anything like me there are many more iterations of reading.

And then you send it out to Beta readers.

And then you change it!

And then you edit all over again!

I do hope you found some of this useful! Happy editing πŸ™‚

If you want to try Hemingway or Grammarly, here are the links:

43 thoughts on “Writing Tips – How to self-edit a book #amwriting #editing #books #writingtips

  1. This was a terrific post. I especially like the sequence you’ve devised. Very thorough. In addition to working with a critiques group for big stuff like plot and character, I’ve used a word cloud to find overused filler words and Word’s text-to-voice. Will add Hemingway to my routine. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so helpful for the editing process. Thank you so much for sharing. I use Grammarly and MS Word, as well as reading it myself. But making your personal list of words that shouldn’t be use, Scrivner, the Hemmingway app, and having it read out loud on the computed is an awesome idea. You really do have some of the most straightforward and helpful writer posts. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Caroline. I think with editing we pick up little tips here and there. Editing is my favourite stage, but it does take a very long time and there are so many iterations! Stick with it. I picked up an awful lot by having it professionally edited…you don’t realise how bad it is until they get their hands on it! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Georgina,
    There are several other editing software available and I’ve looked at too many. I started out with Hemmingway and I still use it occasionally. I love Grammarly, but use the free version when I’m online. My latest is ProWritingAid. With the Premium version, it has Grammarly built within it. I’ve never seen the Grammarly upgrade, but ProWritingAid is worth looking at and I recommend paying for the subscription. Someone recommended NaturalReader and I use it instead of reading it out loud to myself. I have a Mac, but with the newer versions of Word for a PC, there are reading software as an add-on. They don’t work for a Mac yet.

    But you are absolutely right, you have to edit your work and using many of the trade’s software, does help. But never, NEVER, not send your manuscript to a professional editor before publishing. I made the mistake and will never do it again.

    Thanks for an informative post. HUGS

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent tips there, thank you Chuck. Will definitely have a look at prowritingaid. I have just reached the Grammarly stage of my current wip so will check that out instead! I also have a really old kindle that still does text to speech, so I also use that if I’m out. I like the electronic voice πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I use Grammerly (free) because I’m still in the beginning stages of my writing process. I just want to finish it first and go over the chapters and then dedicate my time to just editing. I do use Fiction Press for getting beta readers. It’s really helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

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