Self-editing is usually the next step for a writer after you’ve finished the story you’ve agonised over for months, maybe even years. This is an essential part of the process in getting your work published, and writers should have some knowledge of it.
It’s best to approach any attempt at self-editing methodically, following the steps below to polish and fine tune your work. So, what kinds of things should you add to a self-editing checklist? Here are some self-editing tips.
What is self-editing?
Whether you self-publish or choose traditional publishing services, you will need to learn how to self-edit at some point. This is because a professional editor or a beta reader (a family member or friend that reads your work) may have given you feedback that you need to address.
There are many types of editing. Some types cover the syntax like the spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but more detailed elements look at the organisation, structure, word choice, the story arc and various story telling elements relating to characters, plot and setting. If you’re self-editing, you will need to get across all of them and be proficient at some level.
How to self-edit and be a better writer
Self-editing is an important part of the writing process. The more editing you do, the better a writer you become. Learning when to do it and what kind of editing you need is important. Even if you get your work professionally edited, you should understand what they have done for you and assess it critically. Understanding the stages and tools below is a learning process, but will aid you in producing a better manuscript and ultimately improve your abilities as a writer.
Stages of self-editing
One of the best first steps of self-editing is to take a break from your work and create some distance from it. This means when you pick it up again, you can look at it more objectively. And when you do, reading it out loud can be a good way to revise anything that presents.
Depending on where you are at with your work after this will determine the other stages you follow when self-editing. For example, some writers just jot their story down and then figure out how they want to structure it. Others study about plot points and story arcs from the get-go and write to fit the form. However you approach it, here are some stages you may pass through.
Structural editing: This is also known as developmental, substantive and story editing. It’s a big-picture look at your work. Structural editing looks at issues with the storyline, if the story contains the main plot points in the story arc, if chapters need to be moved around, if there are plot holes that need to be corrected and if characters and their motivations are believable to readers.
Line editing: After structural editing, you should move line-by-line to check and fix the integrity of your work. This looks more at individual paragraphs, and may still move things up and down, but not on a structural or organisational level. Line Editing looks at style, your tone, voice and basic format. This is where you might rewrite passive sentences to active voice, check your sentence structure, and word choice.
Copy editing: This is where you address the minutiae of your work, like the grammar, spelling and punctuation, otherwise known as syntax. At this level, your editing should no longer need rewriting, although it may look at repetitive words and redundancies. If you’re still having to fix any of the structure of the work, you may need to move back up to line editing, then come back down to this level. The lines can blur between the levels and it’s likely you’ll move up and down between them.
Proofreading: This is like the final quality control before you sign off on your work. The proof read is a like a final check, picking up any inaccuracies that may have been missed in the copy editing process. It is different from copy editing.
Tools that can help you
There are many online tools that can aid in the self-editing process, particularly in the copy editing stages. Both Grammarly and ProWritingAid provide online grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice and style checking to strengthen your writing. Their basic services are free and plugins are available for email, Word, and other programs.
Fictionary is a user pays online tool that provides book writing and editing software for writers and professional editors. While writers use their StoryTeller platform, certified editors use the StoryCoach software to assess stories using 38 different story telling elements.
Within Microsoft Word, there are useful free tools you can use. Turning on all the grammatical, punctuation and sentence writing guides are very useful. You can also use word count to track scenes and see if they are consistent across your story. Sometimes they are too long or short, or one is something of an anomaly.
While these automated tools are excellent, they all have an artificial intelligence component. This means writers still have a level of responsibility to ensure the programs are assessing their work correctly, and are used as guides only. That is where professional editors provided by Book Editing Services and First Editing are invaluable. While this can be an expensive part of the process, it can also guarantee the success of your project.
Breaking down your project
It can be hard to know where to start an edit on the first draft. Regardless of what tool you use, or what process you wish to employ, there are some first steps you can take. After you have your draft written, you should begin the editing process by identifying and understanding the story arc and the five key scenes that should be in your story. These are the inciting incident, plot point one, the middle, plot point two and the climax. First, ask yourself, “do I have them?”
If you don’t have them, you should go in and fix them. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but once they are in place, you can then ask, “where are they?” These key scenes should fall within certain places in your story. For instance, the inciting incident should be within the first fifteen percent of the story. These positions are important in the story arc. Once all of this is done, you can go to a line edit or copy edit.
This can be one of the more complicated areas of your editing as it requires getting your head around issues such as mind numbing grammar, the thorny area of comma usage or adjective and adverb overload. Syntax is like the construction of a home and takes in many rules. Fortunately, Word, Grammarly and ProWriting Aid have numerous online guides and explanations to assist you with these areas without you having to study in detail. The more time you spend understanding what these programs are suggesting to you, the more you’ll recognise it in your writing as you progress.
There are lots of small and large differences you can make to your writing as you proceed through the self-editing process. Editing should be seen as part of the creative process, and while it may reveal you need to do quite a bit more work to your story, a vigorous and constructive approach will help refine and shape your plot, characters and settings. Ultimately, it will improve your story and your success as a writer.