Friday Speak Out!: Self-Editing Tips from an Editor

Friday, January 13, 2017

by Erin Liles

You know how it is, you read your work over and over, and soon, reading it becomes like driving on autopilot. Except, sometimes, you miss your exit and end up on the wrong side of town. Reading on autopilot can be a lot like that. After countless reads, you start missing the errors.

Now, I’m not suggesting you don’t need an editor (ehem, waves), especially if you plan to self-publish, but I am saying that you can be a lot more effective at self-editing with a few nifty tricks.


Use your search function to look for common filler words like just, very, really, you know, those words we think we really need but don’t. Unless you’re using them in dialogue, which might contribute to the voice of a character, these words are generally unnecessary.


Make a list of common errors and use the search function to find them. My list has things like preferred word spellings and hyphenations, space before closing punctuation, and abbreviations.


Print out your manuscript and read it beginning to end. Reading it as a paper copy helps you see it in a different way so that you can spot errors more easily. So, get out your red pen!


Load it onto your Kindle or another e-reader. Like printing the manuscript, this gives you a fresh way to see it. On a Kindle you can also add notes and highlight, making it easy to find your corrections when you’re ready.


This one is my absolute favorite! You convert your Word document to a PDF and then under the View tab, choose Read Aloud. Then, slip on your headphones and start listening! Since I have two screens, I always have one screen showing the PDF where I’m following along as it reads and the other screen showing the Word document where I’ll make corrections. If you don’t have two screens, you can easily switch back and forth between documents, or use a printed version to make corrections on.

This technique is valuable in helping to find those small missing words like “a” and “the,” incorrect word usage, repetitive words, phrases, or sentence structure, and it can help you identify wordy or awkward sentences.

What self-editing tricks do you use?

Happy editing!

Erin Liles is a freelance editor and writer. She is the author of A Friend for Freckles, and her young adult novel is represented by Mansion Street Literary. You can visit her website at
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Erin--Thanks for this post. The "listen" idea is especially helpful because usually I read my work aloud to find those missing words and awkward parts. Having my computer read it aloud while I follow along would be much easier.

Last night I was talking with some writer-teacher friends about another technique that is really helpful. It, like, makes it really easy to just revise a long piece (like a novel-length manuscript) in just a few steps... and in a very, like, manageable way. ;)

I'll be posting about it here--on The Muffin--on January 21st.

Thanks again, Erin.

Angela Hood-Ross said...

I didn't know about the "Read Aloud" tab for PDF. I will definitely check that out. Great advice.

Margo Dill said...

I agree that LISTEN tip is great. I have also been in a critique group where we read our work out loud, and it is amazing how many more mistakes/awkward phrasing etc. you will pick up.

Genia said...

When you're copy-editing, reading your manuscript from back to front can help you catch things you might not catch otherwise. This way, you're not reading for content, only for the words and punctuation.

Mary Horner said...

I also like the "listen" advice, and will try that!

Erin Liles said...

Hi everyone,

I'm so glad you enjoyed the post! I'm always amazed at how even after I've read a manuscript many times, I can still spot small errors when I listen to it. Sioux, I look forward to your post on the 21st!

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