10 Tips on Self-Editing Your First Draft

Self-editing is challenging for most writers, but it’s a critical skill all writers must learn. You might be asking why you need to self-edit if you’re hiring a copy editor or proofreader. Self-editing is just the first (though very important) step in the editing process, and the more polished your manuscript, the better chance of success your book has.

Click here for a copy of the Self-Editing Checklist. 

Below are 10 Tips on Self-Editing Your First Draft.

  1. Show Don’t Tell: Look for phrases that are telling or talking down to your readers and replace them with phrases that are showing instead. For example, don’t describe an emotion, show it through body language, action, dialogue, etc.

  2. Reduce Qualifying Words: Qualifying words include well, look, listen, and oh. While they do have a place in dialogue, making it realistic in some cases, it is important not to overuse these words.


    “Well, considering it’s been unseasonably cold outside…”

    Instead say:   “Considering it’s been unseasonably cold outside.”

  3. Tighten Your Writing: If a word is not necessary to the meaning of a sentence, remove it.

  4. Delete “That”: That is a filler word and in most cases (not all, of course) is unnecessary. Try removing that and if the sentence still makes sense, leave it out!

  5. Eliminate Word Repetition: Word repetition pulls readers away from your story.


    Incorrect:       I knew this had to be the door I was looking for, so I unlocked the door. 

    Correct:          I knew this had to be the door I was looking for, so I unlocked it.

  6. Motivation-Reaction Sequence: Be sure things happen in logical order ¾ thought – action – speech.

  7. Fact Check: While writing, we often run into things that need fact checking. When this happens, insert a capital R (for research) inside brackets following the word or phrase that needs researching. Now is the time to do a search for all the symbols [R] and complete your fact checking.

  8. Read Your Writing Aloud: By reading your writing aloud, or having a program such as Adobe Reader read your writing to you, you will hear things in your story you didn’t pick up as you were writing. This will allow you to “see” the whole picture more clearly and pick up glaring grammar errors.

  9. Big Picture:

    • Conflict

    • Plot

    • Pacing

    • Settings

    • POV

    • Characters

  10. Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling: You’ll want to run through your manuscript looking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Don’t worry if you miss something; this is only the first pass before you send it off to the copy editor.

Self-editing doesn’t have to be a dreaded or daunting task. Below, I’ve put together a list of 10 tips for self-editing your first draft as well as a convenient checklist for self-editing.

By taking a systematic approach, you will catch many issues without feeling overwhelmed, and you’ll give your manuscript the chance to shine!

What does your self-editing process look like? Comment below.