Ten Tips for Self Editing

tips for self editing
Updated: Feb 15th, 2011

It’s a fact.

Writers must be good at self-editing to really succeed in print these days.

Many print publications – as well as some online news/magazine websites and large e-zines – have downsized their editing staff, and yet still want to maintain their high standard of editorial quality.

Thus, when faced with the choice of accepting submissions from skilled writers that need no editing, or having to burden already-overworked editors with ‘cleaning up’ articles from careless or sloppy writers – which do you think they’ll choose?

Editors will love you if you make their job easy.

And with a plethora of freelance writers saturating a competitive market, you really DO have to step up your game.

Editors will love you if you make their job easy.

To that end, I want to share with you two blogs that I regularly follow (and enjoy) that can help perfect your skills – the first is The Blood Red Pencil, and the second is A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye.

The Author of the latter is also a contributor to the former, and I found her through an article that she published at The Blood Red Pencil, for which she graciously gave permission to reprint here. Although originally written for book authors, all of this advice applies to freelance travel writing as well.

Ten Tips for Self-Editing

By Lillie Ammann

You’re faced with editing your first draft. Where do you start? What do you look for? Here’s an overview to get you started.

  1. Remember that writing comes before editing. On the first draft, don’t worry about making the prose perfect – just focus on getting your ideas on paper (or screen). You’ll have plenty of time to improve the work after you’ve written something to improve.
  2. Whenever possible, allow some time to pass between finishing your first draft and beginning to edit. You’ll see your work with fresh eyes if you haven’t been struggling with it for hours or days. Depending on the deadline and the length of the piece, I like to focus on other things for a week or more between writing and editing. Often, that isn’t possible, but even a few hours will help.
  3. First, read the entire document for the big picture. Look at the content, organization, and flow. Have you included everything you intended and nothing that isn’t needed? Does it make sense? Is it organized in a logical way? Does the text flow smoothly or is it jerky? Add or delete material, move things around, and insert transitions.
  4. Correct any grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors as you find them, but don’t spend time proofreading for these mistakes until you are satisfied with the content.
  5. As you edit, be aware of your pet problems. I’m notorious for leaving out words; some people tend to repeat certain words and phrases frequently; other writers have trouble with spelling or grammar or punctuation. You can improve your writing quickly by looking for and correcting these problems.
  6. On the next edit, look at your word choices. Could you have chosen a stronger verb or written a better description? Are there superfluous words that can be eliminated to strengthen the writing? Can you revise sentences or paragraphs to make them clearer or more interesting?
  7. Next, proofread for grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation.
  8. If time permits, put the document aside again—for a few hours, days, or weeks—to clear your mind and give you a fresh perspective. Then edit again—and again—and again if needed.
  9. Read the work aloud. I am always amazed at how many mistakes, awkward constructions, and overused words jump out when being read aloud. If you have a critique partner, fellow writer, or friend who will read the work aloud to you as you follow on a print copy, you will hear where they stumble and sometimes even read something different than what is written on the page, alerting you to areas that need to be changed.
  10. Get another qualified opinion. Ask someone else to read your manuscript and give you their advice. Find someone who can really help you—a professional editor, a published writer, an avid reader in the genre—someone who will give you an unbiased opinion. Your mother will tell you it’s wonderful; your best friend who doesn’t read your genre will nod and smile; a jealous competitor may tell you it’s awful. When you receive feedback from unbiased, knowledgeable readers, consider their advice and use what you determine will make your manuscript your best work.

Now that you’re off to a good start, keep reading The Blood Red Pencil for great editing advice to help you along the way.

AND be sure to read Lillie’s blog for even more useful advice!


What self-editing tips would you add? Share your advice!

About Trisha Miller 116 Articles
Trisha Miller Editor-in-Chief, TravelWritersExchange.com - Trisha joined the Travel Industry in 1996 with a background in telecommunications and helped to build (and later sell) one of the industry's top inbound call centers specializing in air travel. Her career in Travel Writing began with creating destination-specific content for a corporate travel intranet, and continued as she contributed content to a large number of travel-related companies that were establishing an online presence throughout the late '90's and early '00's. Currently she is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, and a former Board Member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (2009-2015).  Still a frequent world traveler, and occasional guest-blogger on a number of other Travel Blogs, Trisha writes about travel and technology, sometimes both at the same time. You can follow Trisha on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/TravelWriting


    • That’s a great tip, Shawn, and I do that too! I always preview and correct, and repeat that a few times until I’m happy with how it reads, then I schedule it for publication. it also helps me to get a visual read too – sometimes the text needs to be broken up more, or needs some visual styling for emphasis, or just to keep a readers interest and eye moving down the page.

  1. great advice that is sorely needed!
    # 1,2 and 9 are of particular importance to me. Sometimes i forget that writing is an exploration, not an exact science. Editing can be done later as i polish the bones of the story i have unearthed, but as for putting fingers to the keyboard and letting words fly, well, you just gotta give yourself room to explore!

    • Thanks for stopping by Joshy! I totally agree with you – when I write, I just let it flow, and only pause long enough to correct the spelling errors that my fingers know they’ve made……I don’t worry about grammar or even chronology or structure….I only think about those things later when I’ve read it through once and start to edit.

      I do love your phrase “writing is an exploration” – lovely! :-)

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