12 Self-Editing Tips #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

This month’s #AuthorToolboxBlogHop centers on self-editing tips.

I’m fresh off a bout of editing/beta reading, and, boy, are my arms tired.

No, really, the book was a hot mess, and I’m afraid there’s an author sniveling somewhere and either plotting my mortal demise or vowing to never write again. I was merciless.

Here are 12 self-editing tips you can use when your first draft is done. Remember, brevity is your friend.

Self-editing tip #1

Redundant words: Cut out stage directions when the character’s actions are obvious:

Sarah stood up.  (Is Sarah going to stand down?) Change it to : Sarah stood.

Mike sat down on the chair. Change it to : Mike sat on the chair.

Self-Editing tip #2

Speaking of stage directions, the reader doesn’t need a blow-by-blow description of mundane tasks.

Bad:      Sarah walked to the cupboard and took out the oatmeal container. She poured some in a bowl and added water. She stirred the mixture then put it in the microwave. Sarah pushed the button for one minute then stepped back to wait.

Good:      Sarah made oatmeal.

Self-Editing tip #3

Cut out words when it’s obvious what is happening.

He held the talisman in his hand. (Where else would he hold it?)

Bad: Eric shielded Jane’s body.

Better: Eric shielded Jane.

Bad: Bill and Mike glared at each other in a face off.

Better: Bill and Mike glared at each other. (glaring at each other implies a face off)

Self-Editing tip #4

The use of crutch words. Don’t remove the reader from the story by making them aware that the character is a character. Eliminate words such as heard, saw, watched, imagined, wondered, felt.

Bad:      I felt my breath catch.

Good: My breath caught.

Bad:      She heard the lock snap shut.

Good:       The lock snapped shut.

Bad:      He felt a chill go through his body.

Good: A chill went through his body.  Or: Ice skated through his veins.

Self-Editing tip #5

Vary your sentence length. Don’t be James T. Kirk.

Bad: The monster picked up a boulder. It glittered in the sunlight. James prayed to the Father. The monster threw the boulder.

Better: The monster picked up a boulder, which glittered in the sunlight, and threw it. James prayed to the Father.

Self-Editing tip #6

Redundant adverbs. The general rule is to kill your adverbs and use a stronger verb instead. If the adverb doesn’t add to the verb, drop it.

Mike yelled loudly. (How else do you yell?)

Sarah whispered quietly. (How else do you whisper?)

The frost eventually withered the vines in the garden. (wither implies an slow, eventual process)

Eric quickly grabbed the treasure. (grabbed implies a quick movement)

Self-Editing tip #7

Flying body parts. This error often involves the description of eyes.

Her eyes ran over my body. (ouch)

His eyes landed on me. (ew)

She held up her arm. (didn’t that hurt?)

His eyes glued on mine. (ouch, that has to hurt)

self-editing tips

Use gaze, stare, glance, etc for a better description of eyes..

Self-Editing tip #8

Be aware of what you’ve said in previous scenes, and even in the same scene. In the book I edited, the main character walked into a room with nothing in it but a couch and a television. But a few sentences later, someone sat on a chair and laid something on a coffee table. What?

Self-Editing tip #9

Be aware of word repetition. This can sneak up on you but can be caught by reading your work aloud. I use Scrivener and Word’s text-to-speech feature.

Beside me, Jane gasped. We gasped as the monster picked up a second boulder.

I gulped as I prayed for deliverance. Jane gulped as the boulder sailed over our heads and landed ten feet away.

Self-Editing tip #10

In the same vein, be aware of your favorite words and expressions. Do your characters sigh all the time? Frown? Scowl? Nod? Touch their cheek or chin? Rub their arms for no apparent reason? Turn to the other person every other sentence? Be aware of your writing tics and eliminate them.

Self-Editing tip #11

Passive voice. OMG, it’s one of my pet peeves, and my first book earned me the Passive Voice Crown.

Bad:       We were surrounded by monsters.

Better:      The monsters surrounded us.

Bad: A shimmer was in the air.

Better: The air shimmered.

Bad: The monster was glaring at us.

Better: The monster glared at us.

Self-editing tip #12

Dialogue tags. Use said. It’s invisible to the reader. Better yet, switch up the dialogue tags with action.

Bad: “Try throwing another rock,” Sarah laughed. (You can’t laugh words)

Better: Sarah taunted the monster. “Try throwing another rock.”

So, there you have it, an even dozen self-editing tips. Don’t be like me when I started. Learn from feedback. Read articles, ask questions, watch videos, and listen to podcasts. Every drop of wisdom you absorb will make you a better writer.



This blog is part of #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, a monthly event featuring resources for authors. Each month, we share our writing tips. To follow other authors or join, visit RaimeyGallant or follow the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop hashtag on Twitter.

Bad: “Try throwing another rock,” Sarah laughed. (You can’t laugh words)

Better: Sarah taunted the monster. “Try throwing another rock.”

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6 Responses to 12 Self-Editing Tips #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. These are great tips! I have a HUGE problem with repetitive words. I make a list in my notebook of words I use too much and highlight them when I’m editing.

  2. I’m going to be bookmarking this page. SO helpful! Thanks.

  3. Anna says:

    Thanks for the reminders. The flying body parts made me laugh. They always do.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  4. This is great advice for anyone; new writers can use the advice, but even veterans need a reminder now and then!

  5. I definitely have to watch my flying body parts. I’ve gotten pretty good about it, though. 🙂

  6. Excellent tips. I usually do pretty well with catching passive voices in my first draft but lots of redundant words get by me. Then I have to weed out my favorite words that I use over and over again. Sigh.
    Susan Says

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