Editing Your Own Work


When in the midst of writing a book, I like to go back and read what I’ve already written. I usually do this at the beginning of each writing session. I read the previous chapter or two to set the stage again in my mind, and it allows me to do some early proofreading.

Here are my next steps:

1. Read the book on my computer from chapter one to the end. This is my first full pass, and I’ll usually catch typos and missing words/commas/quotation marks. Sentences are sometimes reworked. Details might be wrong from one part of the book to the next, and I try to fix all of this on the first pass.

2. Wait a day or two and read it again. I still read the book on my computer, but I read out loud this time. I read as if I’m reading for the audio book version. Laugh if you must, but I pay closer attention when I read as if someone is listening. Reading out loud is a good way to find all of the things that sound “clunky” or don’t portray normal speech patterns.

3. Notebook time. I make a list of unnecessary/overused words and the number of times I used them. Here are a few that are troublesome for me in my current project: that (343), just (78), very (101); the list is long. Other words are: fact, quite, truly, try to, shocked, surprised, a lot, really, pretty, put, place, suddenly, took, looked, time, walked, and there are more.

This is the step that takes the longest. I look at every use of each word. Most of the usage is fine in its context, but if I can eliminate or trade out the word, I do. I write with simple words, and if I change a word, it is usually to another simple word. It is during this step that I am most likely to rewrite a sentence.

4. Print a hard copy. When I go back to editing in a few minutes, this is where I am in my current project. The book is printed, and I will now read it as if I had purchased it and am reading for my own enjoyment. Errors, poor sentence structure, and lack of commas seem to jump off the page at this stage.


Sneak peek of my new cover!

When I reach the end of the book, this is when I’m usually surprised and think, “If someone else had written this, and I had bought it, I would have really liked it.” And I think that’s important! I’ve read that we should write to please ourselves, and our work is more likely then to be pleasing to others.

5. Two more copies are printed – this time for my beta readers. Both copies come back fairly quickly with changes, but there usually aren’t too many. I try to leave the book alone while they read, and then I make their corrections on my master – or do some rewriting based on their suggestions.

6.  Time to print one last copy and read the book backwards one page at a time. This way, I don’t get caught up in the story, and I tend to read individual sentences and paragraphs with an eye for anything we may have missed.


It’s almost as good as “maroon.”

When I’m satisfied we’ve done the best we could, and the words aren’t macaronic, my book is ready to publish.

Do you do your own editing? Is your process similar? Am I missing any important steps?

macaronic: muddled or mixed up
A challenge from Zen.

Edited to add reader tips from comments below:

From Book Writing Tips: “If it is possible and you can, after your 1st step which is to read the book in your computer from chapter one to the end, why not leave it for a much longer time like 15 days or a month perhaps? In this way, you get a clear head and you get to read the book as if you’re not the one who wrote it.”

From Dianne Gray: “When you read it on your computer can I suggest you change the font. Enlarge it and change it to something you’re not used to looking at – I find I pick up a lot of mistakes this way.”

Pro Writing Aid




89 thoughts on “Editing Your Own Work

  1. Reblogged this on Book Writing Tips and commented:
    Wow.. What a nice guide you got there my friend. This is very informative especially to those who can’t afford to hire their own copy editor and/or doing the editing themselves like you do. Just a small option though, if it is possible and you can, after your 1st step which is to read the book in your computer from chapter one to the end, why not leave it for a much longer time like 15 days or a month perhaps? In this way, you get a clear head and you get to read the book as if you’re not the one who wrote it. That is if you have the luxury of time only but if not then a day or two would still help out. ^_^

    • Thank you for your kind words. My books are only in the 50k-57k range, and editing usually takes me about fifteen days, but some people might want to take more time. I’ll make a note. Thanks!

  2. I really like your read backwards idea. Ecin aedi! All the stuff that’s been published was edited with an editor, except my poems. But that book I told you about I want to selfpub I’ve been editing on and off for almost two yrs and its only sub 50k. Leaving space between passes is good. Like with your bowels.

  3. Egregious, what a fantastic word, I recently had the pleasure of using the word ablation in conversation, that was a rare one 😀

    • I enjoy all of it except finding the overused/unnecessary words. To me, that is overwhelming. I do think as I write more, I’m getting better at not using them in the first place. My numbers were far less on this book than in my first one. I’ll learn how to write one of these days! 🙂

  4. Edit? What’s this “edit” thing you speak of?

    Oh . . . for books. Yeah, not written one of those yet.

    My process (for what little I write) is to have my wife read it. She catches all the rgregous . . . egrageus . . . er . . . flagrant mistakes. If I have the time, I let it sit a couple of days, then re-read it. Not to edit, but to admire how good it is.

    Of course, as brilliant as my writing is, I usually don’t have to patience to keep it from an eager public (nearly 7 people, at last count), so often I tweak minor things after the writing is up, and before all 7 people read it.

    • Our styles are somewhat similar. 😉 Your wife – my mother … what would we do without them? Flagrant is a good word! I don’t have patience either. After I went back and did some editing on my previous books this summer, and then republished them, I had a hard time starting the next book. I was really tired of these people and just wanted Susan and her friends to go home for a while. 😉 If the book is not “egregious,” I want to put it out there and move on.

  5. Great post Maddie! I hear a lot of good things about #2. For #3, there are programs that will make lists for you. I like putting a chapter at a time into Pro Writing Aid and looking for overused words, sticky sentences, and vague words. #6 just sounds crazy. I’ve heard of it before, but I suspect I’d get distracted.

    • You mentioned Pro Writing Aid before, and I remember looking at it. I simply forgot about it for this book. It all went so fast with NaNo and trying to publish before Christmas. #2 is awesome, and I enjoy doing it, but I’m also amazed at how hearing the words will “show” so many mistakes right down to commas. I like #6 because I don’t lose myself in the story, and it’s easier for me to see things that aren’t quite right by looking at snippets at a time.

    • Ooh, thank you. The grammar check in word leaves a lot to be desired, and I’ve spent more time at the Grammar Girl site than I care to admit. I’ll try Grammerly the next time I want to check something. Thanks!

  6. I sent my novel to my Kindle and had the mysterious lady inside it read it to me. Now that was interesting. I caught lots of things I slid right over during computer and printed copy edits. Good post here.

    How is your mom?

    • Dallas, I don’t know if it’s so much disciplined as it is a necessary evil before publishing my books. I want to put them out with as few errors as possible, and I finally found this is what works best for me. You should see me dragging my feet and whining through the process. 😉

  7. This is a great approach. The one thing I failed to do with my last manuscript was your #6–reading it backwards. I will do that next time even if it takes a while. A typo slipped past me and my editor, and made it’s way into my published book. And it’s driving me crazy. But it’s right at the height of the peak action in the climax, and I think we both got so caught up in the reading that we missed it. I think reading backwards will help to avoid this. Great post!

    • Don’t let it make you crazy. They’ll fix it on the next print run, and most readers will likely miss it, too. When I read backwards, I find most of my corrections are made at the end of the book during the climax. It’s hard to spot errors when your eyes and mind are flying through an exciting scene.

  8. Hey, Superwoman. You’re amazing.

    I’ve heard about the reading backwards process. Will have to try it.

    My own process involves cutting down trees, but mistakes I missed seem to jump out at me on paper. I have no idea why.

  9. I love the ‘backward reading’ – very clever 😉

    When you read it on your computer can I suggest you change the font. Enlarge it and change it to something you’re not used to looking at – I find I pick up a lot of mistakes this way (and yes – I do my own editing) 😀

  10. Great list! I do mostly the same, only backwards – I do my on-paper editing first, usually 2 passes, and then go to reading on the computer. The part where I feel like I’m going blind is moving the changes from the paper to the computer, but I find I’m much better at catching mistakes on paper first. I tend to start skimming when I read on a screen. I have started using Grammarly as well, and it’s MUCH better than the grammar/spelling checks in Word or Scrivener. I haven’t done the backward reading – I’m hoping Grammarly catches those things and I don’t have to try it! haha! Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jennings. I find it interesting that you do paper first. I think one of the reasons I don’t is because it does take forever to make changes from paper to the computer, but so many errors are found on paper, I can see where this might save time in the long run. Something for me to test next time. 😉 Thanks for seconding Grammarly; I’m definitely checking it out tonight.

  11. I like your use of macaronic. 😉
    Also it looks like you put a lot of work into your editing process, and it’s great that you have your sister and mother to help you out. =D As regards step 3, have you tried http://www.smart-edit.com/ ? It’s great for catching repeated words, and it would save you the trouble of searching for them yourself!
    Also, I hope your mother gets better soon!

    • Macaronic. Seems right for me somehow. 🙂 I just looked at SmartEdit. I don’t know why I didn’t search out some of these programs before. Word will highlight each use of the word I’m checking, so I usually just use it, but will definitely check SmartEdit. Thank you for the well-wishes for my mother.

  12. I like your method. I do the reading backwards thing when I am very far along in the revision process. My work gets changed so much that it’s taking me years to write this one book. I keep changing the point of view of the characters or adding or deleting chapters. I’ve never thought to look for words I over use, thanks for that bit of help.

  13. I hate editing my own work. It’s so boring and time consuming. Maybe I’ll get a better joke or two out of it and solve some egregious grammatical errors, but is it really worth it? I didn’t edit this comment and it loks likeit trned out just fein.

  14. I love the new cover, Susan looks great!
    I could have never edited my own book, so I hired an editor and guess what? There were still mistakes and typos. I’m sure you’re doing a great job, Maddie.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence, Maggie. 🙂 I feel like I’m going blind. I’m finally in the “read backwards” stage. Thanks for letting me know you like the new cover. I’m really happy with it.

    • Hi, Rita Kay! I’m still reading practically around the clock, but I’m almost done, and will definitely have this book published before Christmas. Your brother is a dear to do your editing for you. I don’t know what we would all do without family. I’m so glad you like the cover – even though we didn’t go all white. 🙂

  15. Wow! #3 and #6 seem like it would take a lot of discipline to do. I’m pretty sure by the end of all these steps, you must be pretty happy with the end product!!

    • When I think of the mess my first book was originally, I’m so glad I finally developed a system. My first three books were additionally edited and then republished. My fourth book went much easier, and I’m thinking this one will go up in good shape, too. My books will never be perfect, but they don’t embarrass me, and I think the errors are few. Thanks for stopping by, Janice. 🙂

      • My pleasure, Maddie! Haha, I doubt you could be embarrassed after taking such care with your writing!

        Happy holidays to you and your family! 🙂


    • Yes, I’m sure you do have a “lump” of travel writing. 😉 I hope the way I do it will be helpful for you. Don’t forget to check out the links above that were mentioned by others who self edit. Once I get this book published, I’ll get back to blogs and stop by to see what you’re doing and where you’re going! 🙂

  16. Pingback: Writer’s Life Day 13- Steady Goes the Race « Chillers And Thrillers

    • I’m not talking to you. I don’t drop air muffins in Walmart.
      Well, maybe I’ll talk to you a little bit. And you have a cereal post I need to address.
      But that is so true about most of the errors being in the second half. I’m sort of shocked by that. That is why my mother reads twice – once to just enjoy what I’ve written, and the second time for errors.

  17. Maddie, I also do all my own editing (with input from reading friends and family), and have a few different steps that might be useful. I’ve found when going thru the ms to check on a recurring problem (i.e. chapter headers that are indented instead of centered or something like that), I have to go thru the entire book concentrating only on that one issue. If I try to do several things at once as I go thru, I miss things, so this means I end up going thru the book a few more times than I might otherwise. Another thing I did for my last book (which seemed to abound in typos) was that I ended up sitting down one weekend and reading the hard copy one … word … at … a … time. It took a huge amount of time but was the only way I couldn’t get caught up in the story and have my brain show me what it knew I wanted to see. I’ve also had people tell me they will change the font style, size or color to get a fresh veiw. It’s definitely a writer’s bugaboo! Thanks for a great column.

    • Thank you for your comments, Melissa. I found out the hard way to do chapter headings, page breaks, scene break notations, etc. one at a time. I haven’t tried the “one word” at a time approach, but will definitely consider that on my next book. I printed my last copy of this book in a different color and font/size, but I don’t know if made that much of a difference. I still missed things my mother caught. Editing is always a challenge! I appreciate your input. 🙂

  18. So organized–I think this is why I will have problems writing a book. I’m all over the place. Maybe I’ll just publish the poems….and maybe I am just super lazy. Would you say you’ve always been that organized or did it take a while to figure out what works best for you?

    • I *can* be an organized person if I want to. 🙂 Publishing your poems is always a good option – and a good start. You definitely have a fan base from here to start with for buyers.
      (edited because I bloviated … and because I can. ;-))

  19. I LOVE the cover!! Excellent editing advice. Your system is awesome. I never thought of reading it backwards. I think reading it out loud it very important. I hope your Mom is feeling better.
    Congratulations on your new book!

    • I saw your dogs go by in my reader last night! I’m missing so much, but will catch up this weekend. I’m glad you like the cover. 🙂 Mom is feeling better, thank you. What happened with the book you were illustrating? Did we see all of the artwork or are you still working on it? When will it be available for sale?

  20. I think my favorite part was how you translate the book into Mandarin Chinese, then get yourself shot out of a cannon, speed-read the first three chapters, then read the rest as you parachute down just in time to get your first $50,000 royalty check and learn your book has rocketed to #1 on all the bestseller lists. Yup, I think that was my favorite part… : P

    Sounds extremely thorough, Maddie, really– and most impressive. Thanks for sharing your editing routine with us, I’ll be rooting for tremendous success for WCH!! : )

  21. I like your style of editing (especially compared to my style which is “it’s fine”). Sometimes I do go back and check my older stuff and redo it. I really admire your discipline.

    • Thank you again, Bo. We had our Christmas festivities at my nephew’s home this afternoon. This evening, my husband and I have been relaxing and trying to recover from too much food. I started reading your stories, and my jaw muscles ache. I’ve been sitting here for forty minutes with a permanent grin on my face. I like your style of writing, and can just picture you telling the stories. Thank you for sharing them with me. I’m looking forward to reading more of them tomorrow. 🙂

    • No matter how many times we go over the book, there still seem to be a few errors, but this is what seems to work best. I added one additional reading before I published on Friday, but it’s done! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I’ll be by to catch up with you soon! 🙂

  22. Great post. Thanks for the help. I am finding that my errors are much more the type that I haven’t explained my thinking well enough. When I have someone else read it, then I start making major changes and it becomes a major project. I started reading it out and recording it, and then rewriting, and I’ve done the first chapter at least 10 times, I think. I’m still not happy with it. Yikes! 🙂

    • It is a challenge. I’ve republished my first book an embarrassing number of times. I went overboard explaining things and describing things, and readers let me know about it. 😉 The last editing pass I made to the first two books was to pare down descriptions. But I do think my writing is getting better as I go along. Just keep writing, Marsha. You’ll find your way and what works for you. 🙂

      • Thanks Maddie. I love your idea of reading back to front. I’m going to try that. When I work through all your editing ideas, I will get an editor for this first one. But it’s good to know that you could do it without one, and I thought all your books were marvelous! 🙂

  23. Pingback: How to Conquer the Mountain of Manuscript Editing | Marsha Lee

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