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To quote author Dr. Seuss (who once wrote a story using only fifty words), “…the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
At Writer’s Relief, we know that, after creating a first draft, it’s important for writers to know how to self-edit their novels, short stories, memoirs, and other creative prose. Effective editing will help your work appeal to more literary editors, agents—and readers who read!
27 Self-Editing Hacks That Will Instantly Improve Your Novel, Story, Or Memoir
Although you can view this checklist on your computer or mobile device, it may be more helpful to print it out and hang it near your workspace for easy reference.
- Format to industry standards (simple font, traditional spacing and margins, name/title/page number in the header of every page).
- Read aloud for sentences that flow well and convincing dialogue.
- Jump right in: Delete any “warm-up” paragraphs that stall the main action.
- Scrap unnecessarily fancy words.
- Delete repetitive language (i.e., she muttered softly, he shouted loudly).
- Cut adverbs.
- Swap weak verbs for strong ones.
- Rearrange sentences that start with “it” or “that.”
- Convert passive sentences to active sentences.
- Be suspicious of sentences that start with participles or gerunds.
- Reword sentences that ramble.
- Cut long sentences in half.
- Find and replace words that you overuse.
- Streamline bulky stage directions.
- Toss out unnecessary blocking—stage directions or descriptions of actions that could be quickly summarized.
- Watch for “empty” character responses (i.e., she said nothing or he didn’t reply).
- Check description for word choices that convey shifting moods so that the mood of each scene is unique.
- Trim description to your very best lines or phrases—and delete the rest.
- Delete your paragraph “topic sentences” that “explain” what is already being shown. For example: She was mad. Her face turned red and she crossed her arms.
- Rewrite narrative clichés (though you may want to hang on to colloquialisms for characters’ words and thoughts).
- Show, don’t tell.
- Delete unnecessary attributions. There’s no need to write “he said” if we already know he’s talking.
- Cut out anything but “said” (forget she sulked or he opined).
- Scrutinize long passages when characters are left alone. Find a way to dramatize internal monologues.
- Delete unnecessary character actions/musings that slow down or interrupt the pacing of natural dialogue.
- Rename characters whose names starts with the same first letter or whose names sound too similar.
- Kill your darlings. In other words, delete anything that sounds too “writerly” or fancy. Learn more about how to recognize and self-edit overwriting.
How To Be More Objective During The Self-Editing Stage Of Your Writing Process
It’s not easy to be objective about your own writing! But with time and practice, you may find that you’re able to self-edit your creative writing with an increasingly objective eye.
In the meantime, learn more about self-editing tips for objectivity.
Remember: You Still Might Need A Professional Proofreader Or Editor To Review Your Book Or Story After Self-Editing
Self-editing is a key skill for writers hoping to improve the quality of their creative writing. But professional editors make it their jobs to sharpen their editing skills and put them to work for you. Often, a professional editor can see things that even the most objective self-editor might miss.
Learn more about how to hire a professional editor.
More Articles And Books About How To Self-Edit Your Writing
Question: Which self-editing tip do you think will help you most?