Self-editing is the part of the writing process that helps you arrange thousands of random puzzle pieces into one cohesive picture.
Contrary to popular belief, self-editing isn’t only about checking for grammar, typos, and punctuation errors, though. It’s about bringing your whole book, article, or dissertation closer to reaching its full potential.
Have you ever committed some of the following mistakes when self-editing? It might be time to switch things up!
Mistake 1: Editing while you’re still writing
Look, I’ll be the first person to say that editing while writing isn’t all bad. However, it’s the amount of editing you do that matters.
For instance, I like to read the previous scene before writing a new one to get back into the atmosphere of my story. Naturally, things that need editing will pop up during the reading experience.
However, I only choose to edit about 10% of them – mostly typos and grammatical errors. Sentences I’m unsure about stay in for future reference.
I do this because it’s very easy to get tangled up in details. Before you know it, you’ve spent an hour editing one paragraph and writing zero new words.
So, lesson number one: leave most of your editing until you’ve finished writing the first draft.
Mistake 2: Immediately jumping from draft 1 to draft 2
Editing right after you’re done writing is a bad idea, and I’ll tell you why: it doesn’t allow any space for gaining new perspectives.
This is also why postponing everything until the day of the deadline is not very effective. It usually means your editing process won’t be great, decreasing the overall quality of your work.
When I write articles and essays, I give myself at least one day before I go over the text again and tweak it. As far as books are concerned, a few months will do the trick.
In Czechia, people say that “patience brings roses.” A high-quality manuscript is the rose you receive in return for your patience.
Mistake 3: Refusing all help
Every writer needs help. It’s kind of the rule of writing. You won’t ever write a perfect book or academic paper because something will always need tweaking, even if it’s just one scene or a couple of sentences.
Here’s where professional editors and free online tools come to the rescue. While Grammarly and Hemingway Editor check for grammatical errors and syntax structure, a professional editor will look at your manuscript through a fresh pair of eyes and provide complex feedback.
You may know all the self-editing tips, have a keen eye for catching errors, or even work as an editor yourself. The truth of the matter is you’re just one person with one mind.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Mistake 4: Looking at the trees before polishing the forest
All right, here comes a big one: structural editing should come before copy editing.
And what do I mean by that?
Sort out your story before you take a deep dive into the linguistic side of things. If there’s a gaping plot hole in your scene but you’ve already spent hours making the language the best it can be, you’ll have a much harder time cutting it out.
- Do all of my scenes and chapters serve a clear purpose that propels the story forward?
- Does my character development work?
- Is my main message clear enough?
Only when you’ve got your narrative sorted out should you truly focus on the details.
Mistake 5: Giving yourself too much leeway
Finally, one of the key rules of self-editing your writing is to be ruthless.
Well, maybe don’t take it too far . . . For example, you should always save all previous versions of your manuscript in case you later decide to put a deleted scene back in. But don’t treat the text with kid gloves, either.
You may like how a particular sentence sounds, but if it’s completely irrelevant to the story, it has to go.
You might really like a side character you threw in at the last minute, but what is their purpose in the story?
And what about that phrase you keep using? Isn’t it time to switch it up a little so it’s not too repetitive?
The moment you put the editing hat on is the moment you are ready to “kill your darlings.”
This is when the emotional part of the writing process takes a backseat. It’s time to detach yourself.
When you self-edit, it is important to distance yourself from the manuscript and view it as objectively as possible. Of course, this isn’t easy – after all the hard work you’ve put in, you’ve created an emotional bond to the text.
This is why many writers hire professional editors. The editors at FirstEditing will go through your text, deliver complex and nuanced critique, and help you elevate your manuscript to a new level.