For writers: when and how to self-edit your manuscript

when should i start self-editing my draft manuscript?

We suggest you wait at least a few days, or preferably a few weeks, after you have finished your first draft, before self-editing. This is so you partly forget what you have written and how you have written it, so you can then read it with fresh eyes.

Do I need to save my old drafts?

We suggest you always save your first draft, and then when you want to commence self-editing, resave it under a different file name (e.g. ‘2nd Draft_manuscript’, or the date of the edit + the name of the manuscript). Once you have finished that round of self-editing, save that draft, and then resave it again as a different name (e.g. 3rd Draft, or as the date of the new edit).

That way, you can always go back to a previous draft to find the earlier versions of the sections that you have deleted or rewritten in later drafts.

i can’t bear to “kill my darlings” – what do I do?

It is normal for a writer to feel “precious” about their writing, especially passages that have personal significance (regardless of their merit). However, when you begin self-editing, you must take off your “writer hat” and place your ‘editor hat’ firmly on your head. Your goal as self-editor is to ensure the writing is engaging and meets the expectations, or needs, of the reader. You need to be able to edit your writing almost as if it’s someone else’s – so you can kill those darlings when necessary. This will sometimes mean deleting passages, or even whole characters or chapters. It will mean sometimes rewriting the same scene many times, and still not getting it right.

If you are not able to be objective enough to kill at least some darlings, it may be best to hand your manuscript over to a beta reader, or professional editor, for feedback or strong direction on what is and is not working in your manuscript. This will help you kill the darlings that need to be killed.

Can I self-edit my manuscript to the point where it is perfect, or publishable?

If you want your book to be easy to read and  engaging enough for readers to read it all the way to the end, and to feel satisfied by the end, you will need help from an editor to perfect your manuscript so it is ready to self-publish, or to hand over to a traditional or indie publisher.

A beta read that gives you feedback about what is and is not working in your manuscript can be very helpful, during the self-editing stage. This is optional, but may save you money later on during the professional editing process.

After you have got your writing to the stage where you can’t improve it any more yourself, you need to hand it over to an editor for either a manuscript assessment (where an editor advises you on how to improve your manuscript further), or a developmental edit or copy edit.

An editor will give you professional advice on how to improve your manuscript further – or, if your manuscript is ready for a copy edit, an editor can edit it to the stage where your manuscript is ready for design and self-publishing.

Image: Copyright S W Kane.

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