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:

Editing Blues #writing #amwriting #amediting #writerslife #writerwoes


Love it or loathe it, it’s a necessary part of the writing process. But it does present some challenges.

Life is sweet…

“Oh, look at that sentence.

So beautiful and so perfect!

Who says you can’t write a sentence right the first time, go me!”

Punctuation woes…

“Why did I put that comma there?”

…deletes comma

“Nope, it was right before.”

…replaces comma

“Nope, it’s a semicolon!”

…replaces with a semicolon

It works better as two sentences. Ha!”

…splits into two sentences


…removes all punctuation and joins using an ‘and’

The duplicate…

“Why do I have three sentences in a row starting with ‘He’!”

Thesaurus woes…

“I don’t like that word…it feels clunky…I need a better word.”

…opens thesaurus

…replaces word


…opens thesaurus

…replaces word


…opens thesaurus

…replaces word


…puts original words back


When nothing works…

“OMG! This sentence is so bad! What the bloody hell was a trying to say!”

…changes order


…changes to internal thoughts


…gives to another character as speach


…rewrites completely

“OMG!!! I hate this sentence!”


<contented sigh>

Ready for a Holiday #writerslife #writing #amwriting

Sick club…

I’ve not been well for a few months now with a cold and then a cough that just won’t go away. But this is my last week of work and then I am taking a three week holiday. Really looking forward to a nice relaxing break….Okay, and maybe just a smidgen of fun 😉

Back to the blog…

So, I’m well and truly fed up of the sick club and can’t wait to get back to blogging. I have some fun blog posts queued up and will get cracking on them while I am on holiday! So pull up your chair and get the popcorn out!

Happy holidays…

I’ll be in Brisbane for Christmas and New year, and I will also drop a couple of posts of our travels while there. It’s been over five years since my last visit and I expect it will have changed a fair bit. It’s a long flight from Perth, too, so any scifi or fantasy reading recommendations would be appreciated!

Writerly stuff…

When I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself I was busy writing my new book series. I’m into editing now and happy with the way the book turned out. I usually aim for 100-110k and then cut about 10-20%. This time I didn’t quite make 90k in the draft and it’s tracking at around 80k after the first editing cull. I normally struggle to keep the word count down so this is a new experience for me! I’m comfortable with the storyline and will see how it feels as I read. Sometimes gaps become obvious later, but I would rather it was a good 80k than try and pad it out!

Book 2 for the Divided World Series should be coming out in print soon. And Book 3 just needs a final read, so lots coming in the new year!

Let’s get creative…

I’ve had a lot of fun writing the new book. It was nice to get back into the creative side of writing after so long editing and tweaking the last series. But now the draft is done, I do enjoy the editing 🙂

Happy reading and writing! 🙂

Edit until you can edit no more! #amediting #writing #amwriting

I am deep into the editing phase on book two so I thought I would have a little fun with a few of my favourite editing quotes!

“Editing is like killing your story, and then slowly bringing it back to life.”

Editing is like killing your story, and then slowly bringing it back to life.

Yep, I’m feeling a little like this at the moment. When you read your draft you are so smitten with the story that you don’t take time to really look at what you wrote. Once you do take a proper look you wonder how the heck it will ever make a book. Never fear that ugly ducking will one day become a swan!

“Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more.”

Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more

Been there done that. I find I become more brutal the further in I go. At first I am all… “No I can’t do it! It’s so beautiful! It just needs a tweak!” Later I am more like… “Hack that abomination out! It’s never going to work, and I don’t need it anyway!”

“Everyone needs an editor.”

Everyone needs an editor

Why is it that I can spot a single typo instantly in someone else’s work, and when I read my own I can skip right over ten? Ho hum…

“Write drunk edit sober.”

Write drunk edit sober

I have never tried writing drunk…maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong? 🙂

Character names – decisions, decisions! #amwriting

Being indecisive?

Am I the only writer who is indecisive when it comes to my character names?

I don’t have any children, and yet I firmly believe naming a child would be far easier than naming a character in a book! Let’s face it you know exactly who you want your child to be when they grow up and a name is a massive part of this. But when you are naming a character in a book you experience so many conflicts of interest and dilemmas that its enough to make your head spin.

Finding a name at all…2015-02-18 15.06.54

How many writers have a link to the latest top baby names website in their quick links/ favourites?

Ok, enough said.

More irony anyone?

Do you pick a name that suits your character’s personality, for example do you give your evil villain a gritty, villainesk name? Or do you choose the ironic option say something ‘fluffy’? Or even something normal?

Growing into our names…

Do you ever get the feeling that your characters grow into their names, or do they fight against it? While the real world has numerous examples of how your name can influence everything from job opportunities and salary to your likelihood of falling into a life of crime, it also has plenty of conflicts. For example the man who named his two sons ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ (let’s not get into a debate on why). Winner went on to be a criminal and loser went on to be a cop!

As a writer though, do we find ourselves attributing a personality and looks to our character simply based on their name?

I know as a reader I do, so I can’t help but think that subconsciously when I am writing I do the same.

Yeah, I still can’t decide…

I have been writing my current book for nearly ten years off and on. It is ready for publishing and has been through numerous rounds of editing, and I still find myself questioning the names! Ok, it’s not the main characters anymore, but I just can’t help giving some of the minor players a little tweak 🙂


For more cartoons by Tom Gauld… http://myjetpack.tumblr.com

Divided Serenity is out now on all Amazon stores, and free with Kindle Unlimited.

Divided Serenity Book Cover

The waves of reading and writing #amreading #amwriting

When I first started writing, I had no end goal in mind. I used to write and read like a ping pong ball, bouncing back and forth across the net between reading and writing in rapid succession. In any given day I might read a book of one genre, write a scene in a different genre, and flick back to reading a book in another genre still.

I did this for years, dabbling in reading styles and writing styles and genres of every kind.

I have noticed a change, though, more recently as I have focused on writing complete books … my reading and writing activity now comes in waves.

When I write I become very focused on the writing. It’s like I’m caught up in the process of creation so comprehensively that all I do is write, and I keep doing this until my creative brain is numb. It pulls at me and consumes me, it’s like I fall into the creativity head-space as if it were a very deep well. It takes all of me, and the ideas buzz about like flies, darting in and out of my focus.

When writing, I make lots of notes, jotting ideas down here and there on little scraps of paper, and noting things to check, verify or change.

The speed and intensity builds up until I reach whatever self-directed threshold I desire, such as finishing the draft or perhaps a significant section of the book.

It’s only then that I lift my head and look up and realise that I have been performing the task so exclusively that I don’t know how to do anything else. I look out into the real world; I had forgotten it was there.

During the creativity stage I cut myself off from new information, but after, I find myself reading with the same voracious appetite that I had previously allocated to writing. I often download a few new books to my kindle, and check out the latest posts on all my favourite blogs that I had forgotten about during the frenzy of the writing time.

When reading, I make lots of notes, jotting ideas down here and there on little scraps of paper, and noting things to check, verify or change.

There is probably a third wave around editing, which I feel is a very different skill to either writing or reading, and requires a mind-set shift again. Reading, editing and writing require different thinking patterns, and I find trying to flick between the three too rapidly delivers a poor outcome for my work. I am sure there are plenty of people out there who have the enviable ability to jump between the three activities easily, but for me there is a definite speed and quality drop if I try to incorporate all three too closely together. There is also a saturation point when doing any one of the three for too long, which also has a negative impact.

So for me, reading, and writing (and editing) happen in waves. They have natural saturation points, and when I transition between them I need to relearn / remember the skill again.

As a writer I need all these phases. I could not write forever anymore than I could edit or read forever, and if I tried I would soon find my work bland without fresh input or ideas.

I love the way that both reading and writing generate new ideas in completely different ways. When we write the ideas are internally focused on the book we have in development. When we read the ideas are externally focused, but they still drive changes and ideas for our book. To be a balanced writer and to get the very best out of our work we need our reading and writing waves, however quick or slow they may be.

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. – Mark Twain #amwriting #amediting

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. . .

. . .Knowing which words are the wrong words, not so easy.

There is a definite art to editing, as I am constantly reminded when I edit other peoples work. It is so easy to spot problems in their writing, and so hard to spot them in my own.

Succinct word choice, duplicate words or information, reordering sentences, typos and other problems, are all very easy when I am reading someone else’s work. The minute I read my own I become. . .typo blind.

I have adopted a few mitigation strategies to help me to edit my own work. One of my favourites being ‘Text to Speech’ on my computer. This only really helps for small bodies of work. With the best intentions, computer speech sounds like—computer speech—and it can get pretty monotonous if used for too long.

Another favourite, which I use when editing my story, is reading it on my kindle. For some reason putting it in a different format on a different device makes (at least some) of the problems pop out.

Finally, I have a pretty comprehensive checklist that I use to help me find my own personal writing demons.

I am just coming to the pointy end of writing my book, which means the mighty editing process is about to begin. I am always looking for new insights on editing.

So, if you have any tips or techniques I would LOVE to hear from you.

What works for you? What doesn’t work?

If you have written your own blog posts on the topic, or know any good sites PLEASE drop a link below.

All help gratefully received 🙂



How to make your own editing rules sheet

Professionally known as a Style Sheet. I’m not referring to a list of what matches what hanging in your closet. Or the hottest trends from InStyle Magazine.  No, this is a document where you define the writing style and rules that apply to your WIP. Is the style of your WIP American or British English?  Do you use contractions? […]