self editing secrets

I recently chatted with a fellow independent author about the sometimes high cost of self-publishing. She wondered how I could afford to publish so many books. For me, the key is that I spend very little on each book. Self-editing is one of the ways I cut the cost of self-publishing, without sacrificing quality.

The bottom line is that editing is one of the most expensive aspects of self-publishing, for a good reason. I’ve done a lot of editing myself, and it not only requires a high level of skill, but it also requires focus. The good news is, you, too, can eliminate or at least drastically reduce editing cost through the power of self-editing. In this article, I dive into how to self-edit your books and blog posts.

Determining Your Self-Editing Level

determine your self-editing level

Before I get into various self-editing techniques, I want to point out that applying everything in this article is too much. No one has time to use each of the tips I’ll share. In addition to that, if you overdo self-editing, you’ll edit the life out of your writing. Start by selecting a few methods that work for you and apply them consistently. The goal is to find a happy balance between perfectionism and not even bothering to run spellcheck.

I also find it helpful to apply different levels of editing to different types of work. For example, I’m more rigorous in self-editing books than blog posts.

Without further ado, let’s dive into self-editing methods.

Take a Break

self editing tips

One of the most important things you can do when it comes to self-editing is to take a break between writing and editing. I recommend waiting at least a day. A week between writing and editing is even better. I’ve heard it said that Stephen King puts the drafts of his books away for a minimum of six weeks before even looking at them again.

Taking a break between writing and editing matters because when you’re so familiar with your work, it’s easy to miss mistakes. You know what you meant to write, and your brain may fill in the right word when you wrote the wrong word. This is especially true for words that have a single letter out of place. For instance, perhaps you meant to write, “form” and instead, you wrote, “from.” Your mind will see the word you intended to write rather than the word you wrote.

Also, when you take a break between writing and editing, you’ll be more likely to notice awkwardly worded sentences or content that doesn’t make sense. The break also reduces your emotional attachment to your words, which helps you edit more ruthlessly.

The benefits of taking a break are so vast; it’s one of the main reasons to work ahead on your content. I’ve found that most of my typos and other mistakes happen when I write things too close to my publishing deadline because I don’t have time to take a break between writing and editing.

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Review Multiple Times

self editing

Putting out your best writing requires more than a single edit. I recommend at least a few edits. This article provides a lot of great reasons for reviewing each piece of your writing multiple times.

3-Step Self-Editing Process

The article, Meticulously Edit Your Own Writing: The Traffic Light Revision Technique provides a 3-step self-editing process based on the colors of a traffic light. You can apply this method to a first draft to tweak what you include in the content. You can also use it to proofread your final draft.

Here’s how it works.

Step 1

First, make a copy of the original document, and save it with a different name. I find it helpful to come up with a naming convention that makes sense to me and is easy to remember. I include both the date and version number in my file names. As an example, for this article, my naming convention looks like this: 022020 Self Editing V1. If I work on the item the next day, the name would be 022120 Self Editing V2 and so on. If this feels too cumbersome, you may choose to leave off the date.

The most important thing is to save a new version of your document for each editing session, and save the document with a name that makes it clear which one is the latest version.

Step 2

Next, go through the document and highlight in green any sentences that are the best they can be. Highlight in yellow sentences that need slight modifications, and in red if they require significant changes. Do not make any other changes to this document.

Step 3

Next, save the file with a new name, indicating it is version three. In this version, edit the yellow and red sections of your document. As you edit, change the edited parts to green.

At this point, I recommend taking a break of at least a day before doing an additional read through and proofreading.

Note that this is just one method. I haven’t used this method myself but wanted to share it in case you find it helpful. Regardless of whether you use this or another method, I recommend at least three self-editing sessions on each article or book.

My Favorite Self-Editing Techniques

self editing

Now let’s dive into some of my favorite self-editing techniques.

Review Your Content in a New Format

Familiarity is one of the most common causes of missing mistakes. Reading your work in a different format helps you to view your writing differently and increases the odds of catching typos.

Most likely, you typed your first draft on your computer. Try printing it and reading the printed version. If you don’t want to waste a bunch of paper, instead of printing, change the font. I find increasing the font size helps me catch things. You can also change the color of the font.

Delete Unnecessary Words

When it comes to writing, brevity is not my strong point. I write fast and tend to say more than necessary.

One of the best pieces of advice I read as a beginning writer was to ask myself, “If I had to pay $1 for every word, which words would I eliminate?” When I ask that question, I often delete entire sentences. I also find ways to say the same thing in six words instead of ten.

Write a Mix of Long and Short Sentences

Another personal shortcoming is my tendency to write long sentences. Too many long sentences reduce reading comprehension. At the same time, reading a bunch of short, choppy sentences is unpleasant. Work to strike a balance between long and short sentences.

Look for the Banana in the Box

Imagine getting a box of books in the mail. When you open the box, in addition to the books, there’s also a banana in the box. The inclusion of the banana makes no sense. Maybe the sender loves bananas, so they included one. But it simply doesn’t fit.

The same thing happens in our writing. We may include a story we love or some tangent that has nothing to do with the main point. Be ruthless in deleting any “bananas” from your writing.

(Note that this illustration comes from a writing curriculum I used when homeschooling my kids. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the curriculum, but I wanted to be clear this illustration isn’t my original idea.)

Focus on Problem Areas

We all have weak areas in our writing.  Below are some common problems. If you don’t understand any of them, check out the resources section of this post to further your education.

  • Passive voice
  • Commonly misused words such as:
    • A lot (mistakenly written as one word)
    • Effect vs. affect
    • Too vs. to or two
    • You’re vs. your
    • Into vs. in to
    • Their vs. they’re or there
    • Lay vs. lie
  • Overuse of adverbs such as beautifully, painfully. Note that many adverbs end in “ly.”
  • Overuse of weak verbs such as “am,” “is,” and “are.”
  • Overuse of weak adjectives. For example, change “very hungry” to famished, or “really dry” to parched.
  • Improper punctuation, such as the misuse of commas and quotation marks.

I recommend focusing on improving one or at the most two areas at a time. For instance, learn how to use commas properly before focusing on the proper use of quotation marks.

Use a Grammar-Checking Tool

Grammar tools help you identify and reduce problem areas in your writing. For instance, my grammar-checking tool of choice, Grammarly often points out my wordy sentences.

You can also use the free grammar-checking tool in Microsoft Word.

There is a danger in using grammar-checking tools, and that is that they aren’t always right. After all, they aren’t human. So, don’t blindly follow their suggestions.

Get Editing Help from a Friend

No matter how much you self-edit, you will miss some of your mistakes. Therefore, I recommend having others read your work. Editing help from a friend can come in the form of beta readers for your book who are willing to give you feedback, to another writing friend, to a family member with an eagle eye.

I don’t take the time to do this with my blog posts and emails. But I do ask my husband to read through each of my books once I’ve completed the self-editing process. He often catches mistakes I’ve missed. He also points out things that perhaps don’t make sense to an outside reader and gives me other input.

I’m talking about free help here, so be sure to return the favor. In my case, it’s easy because my husband and I both write, so he needs help from me as well. If you don’t have a family member able to help, see if you can swap proofreading services with a fellow writer.

Read Your Work Aloud

Words are like music in that the way we put them together impacts the rhythm. Some rhythms are more pleasant and impactful than others. When you read your work aloud, it’s much easier to spot clunky sentences that don’t flow. You’ll also be more likely to recognize mistakes when reading aloud than when reading silently.

Some find it helpful to read to an audience, even if your audience is nothing more than a pet or stuffed animal. That doesn’t work for me, but since a lot of writers swear by it, I recommend giving it a try.

Use Your Ears in Self-Editing

Listening to my content is the final step in my proofreading process. Regardless of how many times I’ve read through my content, I still miss typos such as “if” rather than “is.” Those words look so similar that it’s easy not to see the mistake when reading. But when I listen, I immediately hear that I wrote the wrong word.

Here are the two tools I’ve used for this.


NaturalReader is a free text-to-speech reader. You either upload or copy and paste the document you want to have read to you into NaturalReader. Click on play, and listen. NaturalReader has both a paid and free version.  The free version works fine, but occasionally an opportunity to upgrade to the paid version pops up in the middle of listening. That’s a bit of a nuisance, but if you’re on a budget, you can use the program indefinitely for free.

Microsoft Word Narrator

PC users can use Microsoft Narrator, which is one of the Ease of Access features. To access it, hit the Windows button+U and select Narrator. Go here  for a complete guide on using Narrator.

Check Your Readability Score

If you use self-hosted WordPress for your blog, I recommend installing the free Yoast SEO plugin. In addition to helping you optimize your post for SEO, it also rates the readability of your post.

Self-Editing Tips

For example, the screenshot above shows that I have too many sentences longer than 20 words. To improve readability, I need to shorten some of the sentences. Sometimes I do that by eliminating certain words. Other times I break a long sentence into two shorter sentences.Continue tweaking your post based on the readability recommendations until your readability score turns green.


Deliver on Your Promise

We’ve all read blog posts and books that promise something and don’t deliver. This is especially true on blog posts that have “clickbaity” titles that practically beg you to click on them. If you’ve ever clicked on one of those blog posts because of the intriguing title but the post didn’t offer you real value, the post likely failed to deliver on the promise presented in the title.

For example, if an article or book has “step-by-step” in the title, you naturally expect step-by-step instructions. If there aren’t step-by-step instructions in the post or book, you naturally feel cheated.

As a writer, make it your goal to bring value to your readers. One of the best ways to do that is to always deliver on your promises.

Fix Your Formatting

self editing

Formatting may not seem to fit in the self-editing category. However, self-editing is ultimately about both the reader experience and professionalism. Formatting plays an essential role in this regard.

Be consistent in your formatting. For instance, use consistent fonts, including font sizes for different components of your work. As an example, your paragraph text may use Times New Roman 12 and you may use Times New Roman 16 in bold for your main headings Because of that, don’t use Times New Roman 12 in one paragraph and Georgia 14 in another.

Also, plan to break big chunks of text into a few smaller paragraphs, be consistent in the use of bullet point formats and so on.

Self-Editing Your Way

self editing

One of my favorite sayings is that rules are made to be broken. As an example, many grammarians frown on starting sentences with conjunctions such as “but” or “and.” But I love starting sentences that way. And I don’t care what others think about it. (Did you see what I did there? I also ended a sentence with a preposition, which is also against the rules.)

Here’s the deal. It’s essential to develop your writing style. Breaking some rules may be part of that. It certainly is for me, in large part because I have an informal writing style. Once you know the rules, it’s fine to break them occasionally.

Also, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, select your self-editing level based on the importance of the work.

The important thing is to write consistently and have fun. Self-editing on an extreme level may cause you to edit the life out of your writing, or worse, shut you down completely. As is true with all things, strive for balance in your self-editing endeavors.

Recommended Self-Editing Resources

Check out these self-editing tools, books, and blog posts.

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