5 Tricks For Better Self-editing

If you’re really wanting to grow your writing skill, self-editing is necessary. It helps us learn and develop as a writer.

Self-editing also means that many of the more minor issues with our writing will be caught sooner, rather than later.

Editing your own work is hard. That’s why there are editors (like me) to give you a hand in tightening up what you’ve already worked on.

Today I’ll be sharing a few editing tricks and tips to help you with your writing. These are some of the things I’ve realised over the course of editing manuscripts and other editing projects, many writers (including myself!) struggle with.

You’re not alone!

1. Choose your descriptions carefully

This is particularly important when it comes to having multiple descriptors one after the other. Choose your adjectives wisely.

Don’t tell me that a person is beautiful. Show me, through your descriptions of their appearance and character.

Which would you rather read?

“Sally had stunning red hair.”

or

“Sally’s hair was the colour of autumn leaves dancing through the wind. When the light caught the copper strands, it took my breath away.”

While there’s nothing wrong with the first example, the second is more likely to capture a readers attention.

Likewise, if you have two similar descriptors, opt for one.

For example:

“His eyes widened in fear and terror.”

Fear and terror are very similar emotions. Give clarity and power to your prose by choosing one or the other. Usually it’s most effective to opt for the stronger of the two words – afterall, the first description wasn’t strong enough so you added another.

Glasses on a notebook full of writing
Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

2. Don’t hedge. Make the statement.

You’re the one telling the story. You can be direct in your prose and the statements you make. It will give the reader greater clarity and your prose better flow if you do.

Avoid using vague language in your prose. It lessens the impact of what you’re saying. In everyday speech, we often use hedging language to avoid commitment or questioning.

“I can probably write a chapter this week, sometime.”

versus

“I’ll write a chapter this week, you’ll have it by Tuesday.”

There is a place for hedging language. In academic writing caution is often needed around the statements being made. However, in most other writing hedging language weakens the prose.

Be a bold writer, not a timid one.

Examples of hedging words?

Perhaps, maybe, so it seems, usually, might, possibly.

When you use these words in your writing, evaluate whether they’re strengthening your prose. Are they needed?

3. Find your crutch words

We all have them. Words or phrases we repeat, without meaning to. Does everyone ‘gasp’ in your book when something occurs. Or does everything happen ‘immediately’?

Look for words or ideas you’re overusing and diversify. Is there another way you could say the same thing?

Writing on a black typewriter
Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

4. Don’t lean on ‘ly’ words

‘Really’, ‘certainly’, ‘absolutely’.

These words are often unnecessary in prose. Although we use them in everyday speech they can weigh down a book and come across as lazy if overused.

These words add strength to another word, but if you feel the need to add it on, there’s probably a better word out there you could use.

“Really good cheesecake”

Or you could use a stronger word and have a greater impact with your words.

“Delicious cheesecake”.

I’ll take the delicious cheesecake, thanks!

5. Use the programs available

Lots of benefit can be gained from editing software, many of which are free. Though this won’t replace an actual editor (or I’d be doing myself out of a job by telling you) these programs can help you.

Grammarly and Hemingway are two of my favourite programs for self-editing. Both have a free online version which integrates with your software.

Grammarly is great for picking up spelling errors or incorrect grammar. You can use this for everything you write – even emails! Just remember that all programs have limitations and will make mistakes sometimes.

Hemingway online editor allows you to check for readability. Are there sentences that are difficult to understand? Too many adverbs in your prose? This tool will highlight the sections needing your attention. Helpful!

Both Grammarly and Hemingway have premium versions. Personally, I’ve found the free versions are all that’s needed for most projects.

Orange typewriter surrounded by books.

Why self-editing is important

As I mentioned at the start of this post, learning how to edit your own writing is a vital skill to have. Learning how to evaluate and improve your own writing will help you to hone your craft.

If you’d like to learn more about the value of self-editing – here’s a video from author Alexa Donne.

Final thoughts

Thank you for reading today’s post, I hope you found it useful! If you have any self-editing tips that you’d like to share, comment on this post.

If you’d like to discuss getting some help with your editing project, I’d be happy to chat. Contact me or visit my services page to find out more.

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Hi! I'm Steph, a freelance writer for hire based in Australia. I'm an avid reader and love all things bookish! My blog is all about the written word.

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