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

Different Types of Editing

So you’d like to know more about the different types of editing!

Yay! The good news: I love editing, and I’ve focused my entire career around providing people with exactly what they need in the simplest terms possible! The other good news: learning the difference between editing types isn’t as complicated as many make it seem! Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments or contact me directly. Let’s get started!

Manuscript Evaluations

A cutting of a lavender plant resting on old, wrinkled papers
Manuscript evaluations are a short (typically a letter between seven and twenty pages) assessment of your work. It overviews general strengths and weaknesses and highlights ways to improve your manuscript. A manuscript evaluation is useful for writers who need a guide for next steps to take with their manuscript or find themselves stuck on story construction and development. Manuscript evaluations are best for incomplete works or works which need more structure before moving into the next editing stages. Manuscript evaluations are not as in-depth—you don’t have personalized comments on the manuscript itself to go by—as developmental editing, but they offer a great alternative if you aren’t yet ready for the heavy-lifting developmental editing requires.

Developmental Editing

An open-faced, empty book with a pen to the right side
Developmental editing (aka content editing or substantive editing) takes a close look at your entire manuscript and asks questions about characters, plot, and overall connection throughout the story. This type of editing is typically the first type done when looking at a complete manuscript as the process often sees your work undergo much change via rewrites, chapter moving, cuts, additions, etc. Proper developmental editing will provide you with the knowledge to make the most of your story! A good developmental editor works closely with you, the author, and will provide you with personal feedback on your manuscript pages as well as proposals for revision.

Line Editing

An open liquid ink pen laying on a piece of paper with some cursive writing in black
Next up is line editing! Many people use copyediting and line editing interchangeably, but the truth is, line editing focuses specifically on the content and flow of your work. Line editing sounds exactly like the title: a line editor is going to take your work on a line-by-line basis and help you strengthen your work. This type of editing has a greater focus on making sure your manuscript sounds just like you!


A calligraphy pen in mid-motion writing a letter
Copyediting–or copy editing, both spellings are acceptable. Just be consistent!–is the type of editing most people naturally think of when someone says, “Hey, will you edit this for me?” Copyediting is the process of going through your work for grammar, spelling, capitalization, repetition, incorrect dialogue tags, inconsistencies, etc. All these things fall under the purview of copyediting and are an integral part of the editing process.


A stack of two books with a cutting of lavender resting on top
Proofreading is the last thing done to your manuscript before publication. Major errors should have been fixed during copy and line editing, allowing a smooth read of your book for your proofreader. Proofreading acts as the “final glance” before your manuscript is shipped out for printing! This type of editing requires a sharp eye to catch small errors missed during the other editing stages.

Feel more confident about which type of editing is which? Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions either through commenting on this post or through my contact page! I’m more than happy to assist you on your journey.

~ Anna

Last Updated February 2023

Why Friends Don’t Make Good Reviewers

We love our friends! We go to them for advice about our lives and love. We confide our problems or sadness to them. We celebrate joy together with them. We enjoy their company, how we make each other laugh or empathize with one another, and their opinion matters greatly to us. Friendship is a wonderful thing!

Two young girls coloring together

So what’s the problem if you ask a friend to edit your writing or read through your story? You trust them already, and you want to know what they have to say. And no matter how much you might think you’re prepared for any possible response, the truth is, you aren’t, and you’re definitely hoping for a shining review or feedback from your friend. And that’s okay! That’s normal! Of course we want the project we worked so hard on to be immediately loved by the people we care about most. We want every word in its place and every sentence brilliantly phrased. And these things are possible! With editing and time and revising and yet more editing. Which means . . .

Friends Don’t Make Good Reviewers

Simply put, a friend is more likely to do your writing harm than good because of something called the social desirability bias. This is absolutely something you’ve experienced before—I certainly have—even if you didn’t know the terminology. The social desirability bias is the effect of people having the tendency to respond to surveys and questions in a way they believe will be viewed in a favorable light by others.

How does this affect you as a writer?

Two closed gray doors next to one closed red door.

Typically, a friend wants to be just that: a friend. They don’t want to tell you things you may not want to hear. They shouldn’t want to make you feel bad about yourself or anything you create. (Neither should a good editor, by the way.) But negative feedback will happen. I’d argue it needs to happen for the development of your work. Negative feedback isn’t fun, but a necessary step to improve your work on the road to submitting or publishing.

At the end of this blog post, I’ll discuss ways to handle negative feedback.

As someone looking for feedback, your greatest need is true constructive criticism. The best way to get that is to go to someone you don’t know for a “blind” reading. And these are the best kinds of reviews typically out there. Someone reading your project “blind” doesn’t know you and doesn’t know much, if anything, about your work. This type of feedback is actually essential for manuscripts. Everyone who picks your book up off a shelf is a “blind” reader, and your manuscript has to be interesting enough in a very short time to keep that book off the shelf.

What to do if you decide to ask a friend to be your editor or reviewer

First, and most importantly, make sure you give your friend explicit permission to be honest with you. This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but be clear. Make sure they understand you’re serious. Make sure they understand you want real, unfiltered, and honest feedback from them. Don’t say things like, “Feel free to be mean to me,” or joke about the process you’re asking your friend to complete. Sentences like that take away from your own seriousness and place pressure on your friend to actually do the opposite of what you’re asking for.

Tell your friend that you plan to speak with someone else about the project too! Say, an editor! But first, you want to get your writing as polished as you can so your editor has more time with your content rather than things like grammar and confusing paragraphs. This emphasizes your seriousness to your friend while also allowing them to be more honest. Because now, instead of just helping you alone, they’re helping you prepare, knowing if there’s anything they miss, the next person to see the project will probably find it.

This next one should be obvious, but don’t pester your friend about reviewing or editing your project for you. If they say no, accept it the first time and find someone else. You don’t want the resentment of someone feeling forced to look over something to bleed into a review you plan to use as legitimate advice.

Get more than one friend to look over your project and make sure to give them the same permissions for honesty that you gave anyone else. Why? No draft is perfect on its first trip out. It simply isn’t possible. (There’s a fair chance the blog you’re reading has been edited and revised at least four or five different times before being posted.)

One hand holding three question marks on the left and one hand holding three lit light bulbs on the right

Be open to criticisms! This doesn’t mean being open to cruelty. Be open to honesty. Be open to advice. If someone tells you they think they found something wrong in your project and tells you why, listen to them. And the “why” is very important to the editing process. “I loved it” is just as worthless as “I hated it” when it comes to feedback.

Remember you’re allowed to have your own emotions about reviews/critiques. Everybody has their moments, but don’t take out your frustrations or anger on your reviewer if you don’t agree with something they said. Not only will this make your reviewer a worthless one for you in the future—because you reacted badly when it was you who asked for help and gave permission to be honest—but your friendship could suffer because of broken trust.

What to do with negative feedback

Two women, at sunset, holding their arms up in the air to create a small heart with their hands between them

Writing is personal. It always will be. When you get—and it will happen—feedback that you don’t like or don’t agree with, take a moment. Take two. Take as many as you need (and seriously, this can be days sometimes) and then read the feedback you got again with as much emotional distance as you can muster. Most of the time, the feedback has a point. And maybe you knew that the first time you read it but didn’t want to accept it. That’s okay! What’s important is you got there and you can either rewrite, revise, or edit until you’re ready for another try at feedback.

Never throw your project away. Sometimes, we get feedback that makes us feel absolutely awful. Maybe it was one more bad thing on top of a pile of bad things, but when this happens, people have a tendency to scrap whole projects. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to press delete these days. Resist the urge! Put that feedback and that project aside in a drawer somewhere for a couple weeks (or months, if it’s an entire manuscript) and work on something else. Then come back with an open mind when you feel a little better and are more separated from your initial feelings by time. Nothing is a lost cause.

Editing and revising can be stressful, yes, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your confidence in yourself. I hope you’ve found the first entry for Anything But the Red Pen helpful and, hopefully, encouraging!

~ Anna