Self-Editing: 9 Tips for Authors

May 18, 2015 | Better Writing

Self-editing is part of the revision process

There is no shortcut to greatness. Great business books are usually completely re-written at least four or five times before they’re passed on to an editor. Self-editing is part of that process. Here are nine tips on how to do it well.

Self-Editing Tip 1: Let it rest

Hemingway suggested that you should write drunk and edit sober. Driving passion is great for writing, but editing is different. Let your chapter or book rest until your ardor has cooled.

Self-Editing Tip 2: Fix the clunky stuff first

When you read a chapter after you’ve let it rest, you’ll usually spot chunks of writing that need to be fixed, moved, or removed. Do that before you go through the chapter looking for other passages that need less revision. Then continue with this list of tips.

Self-Editing Tip 3: Come out punching

This is a version of Patricia Fripp’s advice to speakers. The book, and every chapter, should start with something that makes the reader want to keep going. Stories and bold, provocative statements make excellent openings.

Self-Editing Tip 4: Use simple, declarative sentences

Simple declarative sentences make reading easier. Fancy writing only impresses people who are impressed by fancy writing. The rest of us want to know what you have to say and we won’t work very hard to find out what it is.

Self-Editing Tip 5: Active voice beats passive voice

Too much passive voice can make your writing tiresome to read. Click here for some examples of active and passive voice.

Self-Editing Tip 6: Adverbs are for amateurs

Some of the best writing advice from excellent and successful writers suggests you should hunt down your adverbs and eliminate them. Elmore Leonard said that using an adverb was “a mortal sin.” Stephen King warns that “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Check out the Adverb Detector for help with adverb extermination.

Self-Editing Tip 7: Distrust the abstract

This is how you follow that “Show, don’t tell” advice. Describe things and events that are observable.

Self-Editing Tip 8: Give them a reason to turn the page

The end of every chapter should give the reader a reason to turn the page and start the next chapter. The great western writer Louis L’Amour was the master of this technique.

Self-Editing Tip 9: Read it aloud

When you read your writing aloud, your mouth will catch things that your eyes miss. William Zinsser puts it this way: “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not.” As you read aloud, mark the passages you want to change and note how you want to change them.

Repeat as needed

Repeat this self-editing process every time you revise.

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