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5 Editing Tips For Self-Editing Your Work

Learning to edit your work is essential before you move to publication. While some projects require professional editing, there’s so much you can achieve through self-editing. It helps you get familiar with good writing habits and recognize your unique voice, making your future project much better. Starting your self-edit can be taxing, so this article offers five tips to help you along.

1. Get rid of filler words: Many forms of writing require you to avoid filler words, and creative writing isn't an exemption. Words like ‘like’, ‘okay’, or ‘so’ can crowd your sentences, adding no extra meaning. They minimize the impact of your story and exhaust your readers. Using text-to-speech functions or reading out loud can help you hear unnecessary words. You can also ask for a second person to read your work out loud. This practice gives you a fresh perspective of how your work reads before moving on to the next stage in the editing process.

2. Reduce the use of passive voice: Recognizing active and passive voice helps keep your prose effective and engaging for your readers. Active voice is a frequent recommendation for creative writing; the subject of your sentence should perform the verb's action. This rule makes your expression more direct, active and well-written. This practice doesn't suggest you should never use the passive voice. Of course, there are instances where they perfectly express an idea or a part of your story. But keep an eye out for them and ensure you don’t overuse or use them unnecessarily. 

3. Vary your sentence structure: Too many short sentences can make your prose read like one long list. And too many long sentences become hard to read or understand after a while. Hence, it is best to take your time to vary your sentence structure and find a balance between simple and complex sentence usage. Watch out for consecutive sentences that start the same way, which may have the accidental effect of sounding like you are buzzing on and on and on. Read your work aloud, and if an expression doesn't have sufficient pauses, it could mean a sentence is too long. Check if it would read better to turn your run-on sentences into two (or more) shorter ones.

4. Be consistent with your tenses and POV: Determine if past or present tense is best for your story and which point of view you are using to narrate. If you accidentally switch between tenses and viewpoints, your readers will get confused. Of course, writers can purposefully write some stories across various timelines or perspectives. If this is the case with your work, ensure you employ the proper viewpoint at the right time. Try mapping out your story as a whole, in sequential order, from the standpoint of an omniscient narrator, and then sort out which aspect will fit each tense or point of view.

5. Choose a style guide to guide your writing style: You can use a professional copy editor to follow the style guide that fits your project. While self-editing, they can help familiarize you with grammar rules and keep you consistent throughout your work. The Chicago Manual of Style commonly applies to creative writing, while the AP Stylebook is common among journalists and copywriters. If you intend to write something essentially unique, you can develop a style sheet specific to the project. This style sheet will stipulate any unusual spelling and grammar rules.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen