Self-editing tips, resources and training

May 6th, 2020 by Jane Turner

In this post, I’ll share some self-editing tips and resources you might find useful on your self-editing journey.


There are various stages to editing your novel and the self-edit is the start.

You should aim to distil your work: get rid of the extraneous descriptions, the bits that serve no purpose, and the loose words. View the story objectively; your characters, world-building, story flow, dialogue. Fill any gaps, remove the unnecessary.

This post aims to give you some ideas to help be constructively critical, not fill yourself with doubt.


The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. – Robert Cormier

Neon light saying Think about things differently - self-editing tips

1. Take a break

It might sound counter-intuitive, but take a break from your work. The general rule is: the longer the text, the longer the break. Leave that blog post overnight before publishing, take a couple of days from your article, take a few weeks from your novel. Call a time out on your writing, and go do something different. Stop fiddling, stop revising—get out of your book. Detach.

Detaching from your work makes it easier for you to view the text as a reader. And that’s the goal – review your text as a reader. Be your audience.

The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader, instead of its writer. – Zadie Smith

A break will let you recover from the stress of writing, the jubilation of finishing, and let you do some research on the most effective ways to self-edit. There are plenty of websites, books and advice available; some of my favourites are listed at the bottom of this post.

There are other general tips to prepare for a self-edit:

  • Change the screen resolution (200% or more) – ensure you can really focus on each word/sentence/paragraph.
  • Change your font or background colour, which can help you focus more.
  • Remove distractions – you need to concentrate
  • Take regular breaks. No-one can sit in front of a screen all day; it’s damaging to your health, eyesight and the work you’re trying to produce. Personally, I work for 90 mins, then take 15 mins to stretch legs, arms, and have a walk about. Give it a try. You’ll find yourself returning to the screen with fresh eyes; your body and brain both awake and ready to continue.



2. Have references to hand

The most important reference you can have is your own – your Style Sheet.

If you’ve not heard the term, a Style Sheet is your book’s bible – listing who is who, who’s doing what and when and to whom, the details of props, the day/dates of events, spellings, etc. Your style sheet can also keep track of your typographical preferences; how to treat abbreviations, numbers, weights and measures, titles, punctuation, and many more.

Using a Style Sheet ensures consistency—in your story, your characters, your timeline, grammar/punctuation and all the other tiny things your reader will notice. Check out my post on Style Guides and Style Sheets for more.

Other hints on references, to self-edit like a pro:

  • Use the spell and grammar check functions. Incredibly useful for picking up transposed letters, missing words, and general nonsensical characters.
  • Get a good dictionary for your specific language, or access an online one. Yes, there are specific differences in spelling from language to language, and it’s even worse in English. British English (BrE) is different to US English (AmE), and Australian English (AuE) takes bits from them both. Every English-speaking country will have its own dictionary. Use yours, and note it in your Style Sheet.
  • Research!—Mine the internet. If you’re talking about the features on a specific model of car, check the to be sure the features do actually exist on that model. When referring to a geographic location, be sure you’re correct in describing how your character gets there. Your readers will let you know if something is physically impossible.
  • Consider your grammar. Every writer should have a go-to grammatical reference. You have to know the rules before you can break them! I’ve listed some excellent resources at the bottom of this post.

Get your guides sorted.

flicking pages in a dictionary self-editing tips


3. Don’t go into a self-edit with ‘No’

The one thing that will make your self-edit totally ineffective is to be so attached to your work that you talk yourself out of any changes. That you walk into the self-edit with a clear idea of what must not be changed, instead of what should be changed. Accept that there is always room for improvement.

Don’t fool yourself that the paragraph describing a character’s clothing is definitely required, that the chapter talking about the main character’s preference for yoga over Pilates does actually expand on the backstory and isn’t actually tedious, boring and something your readers might flip past.

A professional editor will be merciless in the mission of improving your work, so break your attachments now and be objective.

The first and most important thing to look at is the plot. Does it make sense? Does it flow from one chapter to another? Have you accidentally mentioned events with a character or place you haven’t yet introduced?

Be honest with yourself and honest about your work. You might be particularly attached to a perfectly-formed phrase (perhaps rightly so) but has that attachment led to overuse? Have you repeated it too often? Has it become a pet you’re feeding every chapter?

Be observant. Recognise inconsistencies. Did you accidentally change a minor character’s name? Capitalise World Cup Cricket in Chapter 7 but not in Chapter 22? Refer to classical Greek, then Classical Greek? You are not perfect; no one is. It’s perfectly possible for your finger to have slipped, for your brain to have stuttered. You should be able to recognise and correct these stutters.


4. Listen

Read your work aloud. I know it sounds weird, but trust me—it’s an old and effective trick.

Reading aloud forces your eyes to slow down. You can’t skim the material, you can’t jump sections or skip bits because you have to speak each word. It’s much more likely that you’ll pickup inconsistencies and errors when reading aloud.

There are various ways to do this, from having a friend read it to you to using one of the various voice recording apps available, and it doesn’t matter which you choose. Hearing your work is the key.

Take notes while you listen. Anything that jumps out at you, needs to be looked at again.

a woman taking notes in front of a computer self-editing

5. Get a Beta read, then edit again

Beta reads are incredibly useful. Feedback can be your best tool.

Your beta reader will take note of incongruities, inconsistencies, ambiguities and typos you may have missed in your self-edit. They’ll report on what they enjoyed, what they didn’t and, if you hire a professional, your beta reader will make detailed notes for you. Using the Four-Eyes Principle will be incredibly useful.

A beta read is one of the final stages before publishing, so never give your beta reader a first draft. Edit, consider and refine, then present your beta reader with a work you consider almost complete.  Further edits are up to you, based on the feedback received.


You are the author. All final decisions are yours, as it should be. But bring honesty and objectivity to your self-edit—your finished work will not suffer. In fact, you’ll produce something you’re even more proud of.


Good stories are not written. They are re-written. – Phyllis Whitney


Before you go, don’t forget to look over my Editorial Services to see just how I can help your work shine.


Style Guides

(Note: some online are by subscription only)


(This list is reduced – put self-edit into Goodreads search bar for a comprehensive list)

Websites / Blogs


Relax. Just write.

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