How I Self-Edit My Books

I know many of you are not only readers but writers as well. We all develop our own system for both writing and editing. And as I continue through the slogging process of editing my own latest novel, I thought it would be fun to take a break and give you a peek into how the editing process works for me. If you’re a writer, maybe you’ll even find a way to use some of these tips yourself.


My first round of edits usually includes changing big-picture things like story structure, deleting or adding whole scenes, and filling in plot holes. I usually have a decent knowledge of what I’ll need to do this round simply because I took a few extra minutes after each first-draft writing session to jot down what I knew would later need some attention. I use this list as my launchpad for my first round of edits.

This is usually the tedious round. I do it in several sections, which can get time-consuming. I look for consistency. Consistency in each character (their speech, actions, physical appearance), consistency in details of the plot, consistency in my world-building (which may or may not include politics and magic), and consistency in setting (did the scene begin with characters standing in the forest and end with them somehow next to a lake?). Depending on how confident I feel about having nailed these things in my first draft, I may try to tackle them all in one or two read-throughs. However, if necessary, I may choose to do a read-through for each one of them separately (I did say it was time-consuming!!).

Ok, so I said the second round was the tedious one, but I was wrong. It’s this one. In addition to checking things like spelling and grammar, there’s the part I REALLY dread, which is getting rid of unnecessary words. Here’s how I do that: I use the website to copy and paste my entire manuscript. Information then pops up telling me various things about my manuscript such as word, sentence and paragraph count, etc. What I like best, though, is the info it gives me on repetitive words, listed under “keyword density” on this site. There are some words I have a little too much fondness for and, until they pop up on this search, I really had no idea I used them quite so much. This site also shows me 2-word or 3-word phrases that I tend to repeat. For example, it alerted me to the fact that I use “shook his head” 6 times, which means I can then do a search for those phrases in my book and change or delete them as I wish. In addition to repetitive words, the site also tells me how long my book would take to read silently versus read aloud, and also gives me the estimated reading level of the novel! So cool.

This one’s pretty informal, but kinda sacred to me. I print off my entire manuscript, even hole punch it and put it in a binder to make it seem more like a “real” book. I choose a day I know I won’t be disturbed and have lots of time on my hands, and I do one last read-through. The trick with this round is not to pick apart the novel, but to simply read it, enjoy it, and ONLY listen to things my subconscious snags on (much the same as when I’m reading someone else’s book and I get to a point where something just doesn’t “feel” right). If this happens, I pencil in something at that place, and move on.

I’ve read several very good editing books/websites as well which are loaded with great advice, and I’ll link them below in case you’re interested.

Do you have any special tips or rituals that help your editing process? What are they?


Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell
Super Structure by James Scott Bell
Ultimate Editing Checklist by Jerry Jenkins
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne

5 thoughts on “How I Self-Edit My Books

  1. I think your Round Four is especially important. After some heavy editing, I try to leave the manuscript alone for a week or so, and then try reading it for “pleasure.” That can tell you a lot about whether the story is working or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Last year while Judy Stock, our then facilitator and general instigator of activities and actions, was still in this life we had been pondering occasionally doing a thing to be called “Seven minute seminar”, generally about writing but okay to be sometimes not. And the subject of self-editing would be a prime candidate for that format.
    I ‘kind of’ did one at our meeting Saturday, July 20, 2019, which was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Displayed some relevant books, a model or two, and paid Dawn to make a little ‘full moon’ cake with some of my little Airfix 1/72 scale astronaut figures on it.
    Then I did a short unscripted babble and ramble about the moon landings.
    Additionally it turned out that a couple of the other members had various levels of connections to the Apollo program!
    Tom had even worked for a couple weeks with Neil Armstrong, sometime in the years after.
    It was a fun thing!

    Liked by 1 person

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