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  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-level 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: 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 🙂

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

Quick and easy passive voice fix #amwriting

We all know passive voice should be used sparingly if we don’t want to send our reader to sleep. The passive voice often makes sentences unnecessarily wordy, and can distance the reader from the action.

Here is a real quick and easy way to eliminate the passive voice.

Let’s look at a passive example:

The cat was chased by the dog.

There are 3 parts to the sentence:

  • Who or what is performing the action? > the dog.
  • What is the action? This is the verb (or doing word). > was chased
  • Who or what is being acted upon. > the cat

How to eliminate the passive voice? Alway put who or what is performing the action at the start of the sentence.

The cat was chased by the dog…becomes…The dog chased the cat.

The resulting sentence is shorter and clearer.


  • The easiest way to spot this is to search for passive forms of the verb ‘to be’

     (is, are, am, was, were, has been, have been, will be, will have been, being)

  • and then look for the past participle 

     (usually, but not always, verbs with ‘ed’ at the end).

In my example the action part of the sentence – was chased – indicated a passive voice.

More Tips!

  1. I tend to mostly find: is, are, am, and will be/ will have been in dialog so I focus on searching for: waswerehas been, have been, being.
  2. Not every sentence needs fixing or has something to fix. For example Tim is a great painter is not passive, nor does it need fixing. (Passive Voice Myths)
  3. Sometimes you want to be passive. For example if you want to empahsise the thing being acted upon, or the actor (doing the action) is unimportant or unknown.
  4. If you use the passive voice – know you are using it and why.

Master list of words / phrases to avoid #amwriting #amediting

Here is my list of words to avoid when writing with an explanation for each about alternatives and / or why. I don’t want to turn this into a thesaurus, we have a bounty of applications that can do a much better job, but I have popped some alternatives in where it helps to explain the point.

I make a pass through my manuscript for each of these words / phrases, and explore each one. There are generally 4 options:

  • Leave it
  • Remove it
  • Replace it with a more specific word
  • Rework the sentence

Master list of words / phrases to avoid

  1. A lot of – Alt. Many.
  2. Across – Overused word. If it is movement, consider how to better show movement.
  3. All – Overused word. Alt. Each, copious.
  4. Almost, always, already, anymore – Check each one, they are often redundant and can be removed.
  5. Came, came to – Alt. Arrived.
  6. Carried on – Alt. Reached.
  7. Different – Overused word / Ambiguous word. Ask how / why the thing is different. It may give you hints.
  8. Feel, feeling, felt – Telling word. All kind of alternative here For example, Feel sorry for = pity. Feel better = comfort.
  9. Good – Overused word / Ambiguous word. Ask how / why the thing is good. It may give you hints.
  10. Large, Big – Overused word. Alt. Huge, massive, vast, high, tall etc.
  11. Looked like – Alt. Appeared, resembled etc.
  12. Look / look at –  Overused word. Alt. Regard, watch, study, inspect etc
  13. ly – Main adverbs. Check for better verbs.
  14. New – Overused word. Alt. Latest, recent.
  15. Next to – Alt. Beside, against.
  16. Old – Overused word. Alt. Ancient, decrepit, decaying, elderly etc.
  17. Right – Overused word / Ambiguous word. Consider how / why the thing is right Alt. Exact, precise
  18. Small – Overused word. Alt. Tiny, microscopic, minute, cramped, compact etc
  19. Some – Overused word. Consider removing or being precise For example. Some eggs = A dozen eggs or Alt. Few, occasionally etc.
  20. Somewhere, Sometime – Ambiguous / Overused words. Can often be removed or replaced with actual description. For example, He left sometime ago = He left at 2pm/ this morning/ last week.
  21. Thing, something, everything – Overused word. Can often be removed or replaced with an actual description of the thing in question. For example, Her things had arrived = Her books had arrived.
  22. Thoughts – Overused word. What sort of thoughts?
  23. Think about – Alt. Consider, remember, recall etc.
  24. Very – Overused word / Ambiguous word. Consider alternative For example, Very big = Huge.
  25. Went – Overused word / Ambiguous word. For example, Went up = Climbed.

If anyone has more suggestions, or alternatives, please let me know and I will add them to the post. Happy editing everyone 🙂