How to Self-Edit the First Draft of Your Manuscript Before Sending It to a Professional Editor
As a writer, you know that editing your own work isn’t easy, but it’s also a necessary part of the writing process. We always recommend that you hire a professional editor to check your manuscript, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t self-edit—these are both crucial steps that complement each other and will help you uncover the best version of your story. Besides, you don’t want to send your editor a complete mess of a draft, right?
You should do the very first round of editing, taking care of obvious mistakes and resolving any issues you see. You don’t have to stress yourself out over it—after all, you’re hiring an editor. You just want them to polish an already great piece of writing, not be bogged down by small mistakes you could fix yourself.
So, let’s go over some of the steps you can take to make sure you’re sending your editor the best possible version of your manuscript.
Give it a break
The first thing you should do once you finish your draft is to step away from it. Give yourself some time to gain perspective and come back to it with fresh eyes, which will help you edit more objectively.
Once you’ve taken enough time away to get out of your own head and forget the small details of how you told the story, you’ll be better equipped to determine if there’s a more fitting way to tell it. You’ll still be too familiar with it to edit objectively, but taking a break will definitely help you spot typos that your brain would otherwise just auto-correct in your head. It’ll also help you determine whether certain scenes or dialogues work as well as you initially thought.
Read it out loud
Doing a full read aloud is a great way to get back into your story after taking a break from it. Don’t do any in-line edits in this round, but do take notes on any inconsistencies, plot holes, or shaky character arcs as you read through. Reading out loud (or getting your word processor to do it for you) is a great way to absorb the story and hear the way it sounds, which can be quite different from what you think it sounds in your own head.
It’s also the best way to spot typos, missing words, and grammatical errors, so we recommend repeating this step at the end of your self-editing process, before you send your manuscript off to your editor. It’s way too easy to slip new errors into your manuscript after a round of editing—for example, you might delete the wrong word or insert a new one into the wrong part of a sentence.
Focus on structure and storytelling
Your first draft is all about getting the ideas out of your head and onto the page, which is why you should focus your first edit on improving structure and storytelling more than grammar and spelling. Can anything be moved around to improve clarity? Have you found the right voice for this particular story? Is the pacing on point?
This is the time to make sure your storytelling is clear and engaging. If there are plot elements you need to address—cutting or adding characters, overhauling scenes, inserting backstories to fix plot holes—your manuscript will change significantly, so any time spent investigating linguistic issues at this stage would be for naught.
Show, don’t tell
Despite hearing this a million times, writers still fall prey to using adverbs rather than describing a scene in greater detail to paint a vivid picture of what’s happening. However, easy descriptions—he screamed loudly, she cried softly, they ran quickly—are tiring for the reader and make your writing feel lazy and uninspired.
So, do a thorough adverb check and ask yourself which ones are necessary and which can be culled out and replaced with a more creative description that uses elements like context, body language, facial expressions, and action to develop each scene. There’s nothing wrong with adverbs per se, and sometimes an adverbial construction may be the best way to present the scene in your mind, but go through your writing and see whether descriptions of action would be better.
Also, check your usage of the passive voice. It has its place—it’s certainly not the evil bogeyman that many writers make it out to be—but in general, the active voice is better. Whenever you find a passive sentence, determine whether the passive voice is appropriate or whether the active voice would make it stronger.
Check for consistency and redundancy
Consistency is key to good writing, and we don’t just mean verb tenses and voice. Make sure your perspectives and points of view are also consistent and that you didn’t suddenly shift into another character’s POV in the middle of a paragraph. Keep track of whose mind your narrator can “see” into and how the reader will perceive your main character, making sure these principles remain consistent throughout.
Also, cut out any redundant descriptions, repetitive expressions, and excessive explanations that will bore the reader. You don’t want them skipping ahead to find the action—you want to bring them right into it. If you follow the age-old advice of “show, don’t tell,” you shouldn’t have too many boring explanations in your manuscript anyway.
Read it again
The final step is doing an in-line edit, which requires you to analyze each word and sentence, determining whether they fit into your story, if they should be tweaked, or if they should be cut out entirely. Again, you want to send your editor the best possible version of your draft, so weigh every word and its significance, connotations, denotations, and flow within each sentence.
This is when you can read your entire draft aloud again (or have your word processor do it for you), and make sure you’re keeping an eye out for any spelling and grammar errors. Now you get to simplify and clarify, so take your time and edit objectively. However, don’t go overboard, especially if advanced grammar isn’t your strong suit. Only change the things you’re sure about and rely on your expert editor for the rest.
Once you’re happy with your draft—it’s clean, clear, consistent, and well-structured—it’s time to send it out to your first batch of beta readers or directly to a professional editor. Whether you choose developmental editing for in-depth suggestions and notes on structural issues or go with paragraph and sentence editing for a comprehensive revision, our services for authors have got you covered.