7 Mistakes Writers Should Avoid When Self-Editing

When it comes to editing your own writing, many first-time writers think it will be a walk in the park. It’s your own writing after all, why would it be difficult?

Turns out, revising your own words can be much more difficult than editing someone else’s. It’s not easy to look past your own biases and see your writing for what it is. You know what you meant to say, so you may not clearly see what you actually wrote.

Self-editing is actually a skill that requires time, effort, and experience to be good at, so if you’re looking to tackle editing your own manuscript, there are some common pitfalls you should keep in mind.

Here are 7 things that writers tend to get wrong when it comes to self-editing their own manuscript:

1. Editing while they write

Writing and editing, although they’re often linked together, are two completely different processes.

While you’re writing a book, you need to think creatively. You should be putting yourself in the mind of your characters, moving through your plot, and coming up with interesting and engaging scenes that excite you—and will in turn excite your reader.

On the other hand, editing is not a creative process. It’s very analytical, requiring you to look at your work from an outsider’s perspective and fix things that aren’t working. If you try to do this while writing, you’ll likely just end up losing momentum and feeling like your story isn’t getting anywhere.

As you write, you shouldn’t be focused on fixing clichés, varying your sentence length, or maintaining consistency. All of that can be done in future editing stages. Instead, focus on being creative and keeping the words flowing. The editing can come later.

2. Trying to edit all at once

Another mistake writers often make is thinking of editing as one stage, when in reality, it requires multiple phases to do it well.

If you’re trying to focus on grammar, spelling, plot, characters, and inconsistencies all at once, you’re bound to miss most of what needs to be fixed! Instead, take it a step at a time.

  1. Developmental editing (sometimes called stylistic, substantive, or content editing) is when you look at the manuscript as a whole to evaluate what works and what doesn't. Focus on big picture elements such characters, plot, pacing, organization, and structure.
  2. Line editing is when you examine your manuscript line by line and focus on the craft elements such as writing style, word choice, paragraph structure and flow, redundancies, and areas that need clarification.
  3. Copyediting is the stage where you fine-tune the details, including fixing errors in grammar, syntax, and punctuation.
  4. Proofreading is where you’ll take one final look at everything to ensure there are no formatting mistakes, typos, or inconsistencies before sending in your manuscript.

You don’t have to follow this order, however, if you proofread or copy-edit before bigger developmental edits, you’ll end up wasting time on things that just get deleted later.  

3. Relying on editing software

Editing software like Grammarly, ProWritingAid, and the built-in spell-check on your word processor are all great tools to help you catch errors in your writing. However, you shouldn’t rely on them to fix all of your mistakes.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use them—they’re great at helping you save time and catch things as you go so you don’t have to fix them later. They’ll also help you improve your writing skills by noticing the mistakes you make multiple times throughout your manuscript. Just be wary of how much you’re relying on them.

Not to mention, even the best editing and writing software can’t write for you. They’re not going to be able to help with things like plot and character consistencies or whether a paragraph is your book is repetitive.

4. Missing their own writing blunders

Every writer has traps that he or she tends to fall into. Whether you’re heavy on the adverbs, use a lot of unnecessary “filler” words, or have a tendency toward run-on sentences, you’re not alone! No writer is perfect.

However, these blunders that you may not notice or feel are insignificant will be extremely noticeable to a reader. They’ll be able to tell when your characters say the same phrase five times in a chapter or their hair color changes half-way through the book without explanation.

Because you’re self-editing, you’ll do well to take care and find the traps you tend to fall into as a writer. They’re much harder to catch in your own writing, so getting someone to help you may be necessary.

Consider turning in just a chapter or two of your writing to a freelance editor and see what they catch. Errors in those two chapters could point you toward the mistakes you’re making frequently throughout your writing.

5. Leaving in unnecessary writing

It’s important to remember: just because you wrote it doesn’t mean it needs to be in your book.

If writing your first draft is all about getting the words out, then editing it should be about reigning it back in. Consider every word, sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter and ask yourself: Is this necessary for what I’m trying to accomplish? Is this an important component to the story I’m trying to tell?

The best writers are the ones that know how to reel themselves in and only tell the most important parts of a story. They know that readers won’t care if the main character always wears a sparkly hair clip if it has no significance to the plot or character development as a whole.

As hard as it is to “kill your darlings,” if you will, it will lend itself to a much better book in the end.

6. Jumping right into editing

One of the most important pieces of editing is being able to look at the writing with an unbiased opinion. If you’re self-editing, it’s much more difficult to look at your own writing with an objective eye.

Thankfully, you can create some objectivity simply by putting time between your writing and editing phases. Once you finish writing a manuscript, put it in a drawer and give yourself a reminder to go back to it in 2-3 months.

In the meantime, start working on something else. The key here is to forget (as much as you can) your work so when you come back to it, you can look at it more objectively.

The longer you can wait between writing and editing, the better. You want to forget most of what you’ve written so you can look at it with a clearer perspective.

If you’re not willing to take that much time off from this manuscript, consider taking a couple months to share your writing with objective peers. During this time, try thinking up your next story and don’t fret over what feedback you might get.

Then, once you have everyone’s notes back, you’ll have created a bit of distance AND you’ll have some great critiques to work off of.

7. Not asking for help

One big reason that many authors decide to self-edit their manuscripts is because they’re afraid of critique. They don’t want to hear negative opinions on their writing, so they avoid sharing it at all or until they feel it’s “perfect”.

As tough as critiques can be, it’s better to get it now than when your book is published and it’s too late to make changes. Feedback is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be scary! The key is to find good, unbiased critique partners who can give you criticism without personal biases getting in the way.

Or if you’re willing to invest a little money, handing your writing off to a professional editor is going to give you the best results.

However, it’s also important to fine-tune your own skills and learn how to become a better writer with each book you write. So self-editing is still an important skill to learn. Take a few passes at editing it yourself, then once you feel like you’ve done as much as you can, pass it off to some objective critique partners. Whether that’s friends, fellow ALC members in an Author Circle, or a professional editor—that’s up to you.

To learn more about self-editing and many other topics that can help you write, edit, publish, and market your book, make sure to check out the Author Learning Center’s expansive library of exclusive articles, author interviews, and webinars.

Start your free trial today and get full, unlimited access at no cost to you.

Share this story
Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn