7 Tips for Self-Editing

Editing your own work can feel daunting if not downright impossible. Where do you start? What’s the most important aspect?

Well, the good news is, the “where do you start” is developmental editing. But some of the creative editing styles below are useful for all stages of editing!

In this article, you’ll find seven of my favorite tips for self-editing!

They’ll help you catch the errors hiding in your manuscript.
A blue cup holding multi-colored pencils

1. Hand Edit A Hard Copy

This one is old school. Our first experience editing is on our own papers, red pen in hand. No other way to say it, right?

Wrong! I am still all for hand editing, but there’s a lot of ways to spice it up!

How? Color-coding. Remember, this is for you. No one else has to see the crazy.

Me? I like all my hard copies in Times New Roman at 12 point font size and double-spaced. Honestly, the double-spacing is the important part here, because you need the white space for notes! . . . Or possibly a line of question marks.
A line of open highlighters in a rainbow pattern
So highlight those pesky adverbs in bright blue. Underline sentence starters that make you quirk your head in green. Cross out things you think (or know) might be unnecessary in orange. Circle inconsistencies in neon yellow. Draw a pink triangle above phrases you know can shine brighter. Bracket clichés in purple. Don’t be scared of the red pen! In conjunction with other colors, you’ll turn your manuscript into a rainbow and your prose will emerge into clearer skies!

Hand editing a hard copy is useful for any type of editing!

2. Change the Font or Page Color—Or Both!

I see the funny looks. “Really,” you think. “The font? The page color?”


Changing up the font and colors in your manuscript helps reduce page blindness; you know, that frustrating thing that happens when we’ve read something so many times that our brains turn on autocorrect even when we’re actively looking for errors.

A human’s internal autocorrect function is great for skipping double words or missing closing quotes or the wrong homophone while reading. Personally, I wish my internal autocorrect had an off button for editing my own work.

Changing the font or page color of your manuscript is incredibly useful for copyediting and proofreading, but this trick also has a solid footing in line editing!

3. Read Your Manuscript Aloud

You’ve definitely heard this one, but it’s worth repeating over and over because it’s so effective. You might feel silly doing it, but the self-induced embarrassment is worth it for the catching of clumsy phrases and run-ons and overly long paragraphs.

An added benefit of reading your manuscript aloud is it’s the absolute best way to take your dialogue for a test run. You may have “How did he do it?” on the page, but you’ll end up saying “How’d he do it” out loud. Change it up! Nine times out of ten, people speak using the fewest words possible; it’s just our nature and adaptation to quick communication. In novels, this manifests in contractions. People love contractions. You hear them and use them all the time. New ones are created and some words get left behind in the shuffle altogether. Don’t be shy; contractions love you too!

Here are a couple extra hints for this one:

  • If you run out of breath before you finish the sentence, your sentence is too long. Break it up into a couple sentences instead!
  • If you trip while reading—not just pause, but actually feel your tongue stumble—mark it, because you probably just found a spot that could use some clarity and tightened prose!

The best use for reading your manuscript aloud is during developmental editing; however, line editing also has a use for this as well when reading for flow and aesthetic appeal.

4. Ask a Peer/Colleague to Read Your Manuscript to You

Similar to #3, this one offers an extra layer of netting for catching errors. Someone else reading your manuscript will stumble sometimes—or maybe wrinkle their eyebrows when something stops being easy to read—and you can mark your copy and continue. You can also hear your exposition and, even better, your dialogue in someone else’s voice! Is the way they read the dialogue how you intended? Do things your characters say feel out of character when in someone else’s voice? Listening to someone else is a great way to get these answers fast!

Two children reading a book outdoorsAsking someone else to read your manuscript to you is useful for beta readings! It’s not technically a stage of editing, but your beta readers are the first people who will see your manuscript.

They’re often trusted friends or peers with a writing/editing background or writing colleagues.

5. Leave It Alone and Come Back to It

Yep, this one isn’t new either, but just like #3, it’s worth repeating. Page blindness is something every author struggles with. You simply become too used to reading your own work: the same pages and same words over and over again. Your brain starts to autocorrect things that actually need your attention!

While many writers are aware of the problem, they feel guilty setting their work aside when they would actually get more out of their manuscript if they did give themselves a break. This technique can be equated to the phrase “work smarter, not harder,” because giving yourself the time you need away from your manuscript makes you more productive when you come back to it! The time away gives your brain a chance to recuperate, come up with solutions to problems you didn’t know you had (or maybe solutions for problems you knew you had,) better ideas for revisions, and the clarity to find errors, big and small!

An old-fashioned pocket watch next to an open book and a pair of glasses
How long is enough time? Honestly, it’s up to you. Typically, I’d recommend a few weeks of focusing on some other project after completing a manuscript before you pick it up again. This is simply because of the sheer size of many manuscripts. Most likely, you’ve already spent months plugging away on the same document. A short story may only require a few days to a week. A poem? A day or two. Flash fiction? Also a day or two. Do what feels right to you: have some fun, tackle a new project, read a book! There are no wrong answers.

Leaving your manuscript to simmer is useful for every stage of editing, but I’ve found it pulls the most weight after a fresh draft has undergone developmental editing.

6. Read Backwards

Yes, you read that right. Reading backwards is especially useful for catching grammatical errors because your story is suddenly out of order. Flip to the back of your manuscript or maybe just to the last page of chapter one and read it! Then go back a page. Feeling adventurous? Skip around and read pages at random! It may feel a little weird at first, but trust me, it’s worth it for all the little things you’re going to find.

Reading backwards is most useful during proofreading stages, but it can also be applied to copyediting.

7. Change Your Environment

No, I don’t just mean to move your pencil holder a couple inches to the left. Drag yourself and your manuscript (or parts of it) outside! If you’re comfortable, find a coffee shop and cozy corner and dig in—to your pages, not the food. Though, to be fair, it is nice to have snacks on hand if you need them.

I’m the type of writer and editor that prefers spaces in nature to sit and work: lake sides, docks, picnic tables in the park, etc. When it’s too cold to be outdoors (or too hot) I’ll just chill out in my car with my notebooks and laptop. Sometimes the lack of internet access is a great focus booster if you’re prone to distraction easily.

If leaving your home isn’t an option, find a comfy spot in a different room or change the direction you’re facing when you work. Even a different wall to stare at is better than no change at all.

Changing your environment is useful for every editing stage! A fresh space teeming with new ideas is out there for you!

A picnic table next to a single tree in a field

In the end, you’re the only one who will know which editing tricks work best for you, but don’t be scared to try out new ones! You may be surprised and give yourself an easier and more enjoyable time.

~ Anna