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Essays,  General Thoughts

Self-editing a Story: What it Takes

Independent publishing takes perseverance, time, guts, and high self-esteem. It also takes money if you need to hire people for services such as book file setup, cover creation, and editing.

I’m fortunate that I work as a professional editor in my day job and that I have graphic design experience. Because of these skills, I am better equipped than some indie authors when it comes to setting up my own book files and creating my own covers.

Editing is a HUGE step in publishing a novel. Reader reviews can be brutal, and nothing spells amateur quite like publishing a book full of grammatical errors and typos. Of course, no one is perfect. Even major publications will have typos. It’s just inevitable. Thankfully, there are tools and strategies to help. These are a few things I’ve learned.

  1. Software tools
    Unless you’re writing on a typewriter, you have software tools for proofreading right at your fingertips. I write in Microsoft Word, so I utilize the software’s Spelling and Grammar check feature on everything I write. I also run my work through third-party software called Grammarly. I love Grammarly because it goes a step deeper than Word’s software. You can’t rely 100% on any software, but it certainly will find many common errors to help polish your work.

    There are many things that software will catch that you may not want to change. For example, dialogue. Your characters don’t have to say everything grammatically correct. “Ain’t” isn’t a word, but it is if your character says or thinks it. Also, you don’t have to use complete sentences. Develop your own style and trust it within reason. (See step 5).

  2. Look for common mistakes
    If you want to see some common grammatical mistakes in writing, check out Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Misuse of words is one of my biggest pet peeves. I do a search for each version of these words to make sure I use them properly. Making mistakes with these words is easy to do if you’re in a hurry or writing while you’re tired.

    Here are some commonly misused words:

    There, Their, They’re
    Here, Hear
    You’re, Your
    Its, It’s
    Where, Wear
    Accept, Except
    Whose, Who’s
    To, Too, Two
    Lose, Loose

    *And for the love of Christmas, don’t make something plural by adding an apostrophe +s!

  3. Print your work
    If you have the means, print your work to proofread and edit. It’s easier to find mistakes on a printed copy. This is especially so if you print your work in an unusual font or color. Doing this forces your eyes to slow down during reading, which makes it easier to catch mistakes.


  4. Read aloud
    Photo of two dogs
    Peanut and Roscoe

    Reading your work aloud is a great way to catch mistakes and find problems with rhythm and sentence structure. People read slower when reading aloud, so you’re better able to find mistakes than you would if you were reading silently. I like to read aloud to my pets. They’re always captivated by my work.

  5. Beta readers
    Having someone else (preferably many someones) read your book before publication is vital. These beta readers are wonderful to point out plot holes or other things that just don’t sit right in your story. Now, of course, it’s your story, so you don’t have to make all the changes your betas suggest. Just take what they say into consideration, especially if more than one reader points out something that doesn’t fit.


    Remember what I wrote earlier about trusting your own style? Well, beta readers can help ensure that your style works to best tell your story.

In the end, after you’ve read your own work multiple times, you just have to be done with it. Will there always be things you could have done better? Sure, but picking your story to death for years won’t accomplish anything. Doing so will slow down your progress. If you catch a blatant error later on, of course, you should fix it, but don’t go looking for errors after your final edits, or you’ll drive yourself mad.

Each story you write and edit will make you a better writer and editor. I hope this post gave some insight to curious readers or to other writers who wanted tips.

-Brandi Easterling Collins
Header graphic Designed by makyzz / Freepik

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