Take 5 minutes to get started with self editing... you'll be happy you did!

Have you got that giddy feeling from finishing your first draft? Great, but that dopamine-spike is relatively short-lived. Why? -

No matter how much effort you’ve put into getting to your final goal, you know you still have more work to do until it’s ready to be published.

Self-editing your manuscript is a crucial, but often crucifying, (I mean, reading your own work, eek!) next step before – not in place of – a professional edit. Before you hand over your proverbial baby to someone else, you need to know what you just wrote!

But what are you actually looking for? And how will it help get you a better book at the end?

Why it pays to polish

Self-editing is your chance to read what you’ve just banged out and improve your ideas. Like the saying goes: ‘Write drunk, edit sober’.

This is your opportunity to check that you have covered everything you outlined in your original plan and ensure there are no gaps or areas that need more work.

This means more than just checking for typos and grammatical errors.

It’s easy to run a spellchecker through your book or check for mistakes using Grammarly. It’s more difficult to assess how well you’ve articulated your message or main point.

That’s why self-editing makes the difference between sloppy and shiny; poor and powerful.

Remember, the more you work on communicating, the clearer your message is and the more influence you have as a result.

The self-editing stage does not replace engaging a qualified editor to review and give you objective feedback about your work. Professional help is absolutely necessary because you are so close to the content, you need someone else to help find flaws that you are blind to.

“Moreover, it’s not your job to edit your work as you go — that kills the creative process”, as prolific writer Jeff Goins puts it.

However, self-editing before handing over your work to a professional can reduce the number of rewrites you undergo with an editor, and often, save you time and a bit of cash.

So where to begin?

The tick–cross–question system

First off, you need to print out and read through your entire book as if you are the reader seeing the book for the very first time. This process allows you to pinpoint sentences, paragraphs, sections or, even, chapters that are and aren’t working.

You need to have some distance between when you finish writing and when you begin self-editing.

Give yourself at least two days and up to two weeks where you don’t work on or look at your book. You’re giving yourself permission to approach your manuscript from a fresh perspective with a renewed set of eyes.

Then, read and mark on your printout:

  1. What works (Tick it)
  2. What doesn’t (Cross it out)
  3. What’s unclear and needs more clarification (Question mark it)

As you read, check for errors such as a shift in perspective. It’s a common mistake to switch between ‘you’ and ‘they’. First person (you) is more inclusive and engaging.

Don’t overlook reading your manuscript out loud. Listen to the way words sound to identify any awkward spots or transitions.

Also assess your tone and readability. Are you ranting, or taking your audience on the journey with you? Are you using too few or too many headings? If it’s text heavy it will make it difficult for your reader to digest your main points.

After you’ve worked through your entire book, you will need to go back into your document and make these changes. Then you may need to repeat this process, giving yourself time away from your work and re-reading again to check for sense.

But don’t get caught in the perfection cycle!

This is still a draft so you need to get out of your own way and move onto the next step – getting someone you trust to help.

Power your perspective

Once you are satisfied with your own edits, it’s time to involve a trusted advisor to critically and honestly assess your work using the same tick–cross–question system.

At this stage, a friend or family member can be OK, but only if they can be trusted to give you honest and professional feedback – you’re not searching for ‘hey, this is great!’. (So, err on the side of caution if you’re thinking of your grandma).

Likewise, this does not mean sending your book out to everyone in your industry. You want your manuscript to be in the best shape possible before you do this, so go through the process with a professional editor first.

Rather, think of this step as gathering your first objective perspective.

Once your reader has presented their feedback, go back to your work and incorporate their changes into your manuscript.

Do your ideas in your book now feel tighter and more impactful?

Sweet.

Remember, the more you work on communicating, the clearer your message is and the more influence you have as a result.

Only then are you ready to move onto the next stage in the editing process: hiring a professional editor to help.

Struggling to self-edit?
Download the Self-editing cheatsheet to follow and save yourself time.

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The secret to a successful book

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Kelly Irving

I’m an editor and writing coach with a love for deep-diving into brains and businesses. Through my one-to-one work and online program, I provide an action-by-action process that speeds up the time it takes to produce your best book, and turns overwhelm and self-doubt into momentum and excitement for writing.

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