6 Self-Editing Questions Every Writer Should Ask

Q: How do I stay motivated while self-editing?

A: I think it’s safe to say that for most of us writers, crafting the story is way more fun than the self-editing that comes after. Especially when it involves multiple rewrites and tons of errors to fix. The process can be long, frustrating, and tedious, leading to procrastination or even avoidance. This can ultimately cause delayed deadlines and dreaded writer’s block.

Solution: Organization while self-editing is key! The more focused and clear my self-edits are, the more I’ll be able to complete them. I try sitting down and listing all the issues I feel my draft has, chapter by chapter, right off the top of my head. I listen to that nagging voice telling me what needs fixing and jot down any blatant errors. Even if I’m unsure about a section but can’t pinpoint what’s wrong, I still write it down. Once I have these notes on paper, it’s much easier to start brainstorming solutions one by one. By keeping a trackable list, the task begins to feel less daunting. I can take it one step at a time and clearly see how much self-editing I’ve accomplished along the way.

Q: Should I self-edit as I write or wait until the end?

A: I had to find what works best for me personally. Every writer has their own self-editing process and preferences, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about writing and self-editing. Some of us prefer to clean our manuscript as we go along, while others pants their way through the whole thing and then spend their days self-editing afterward. It all depends on what type of writer you are.

Solution: My process is to self-edit things as I go. It looks like this:
At the beginning of each writing session, I reread the chapter I’m currently writing. I try not to go back further than that unless it’s for a quick reference. This keeps me from getting bored with my work, but allows me to pick up where I left off and relearn where I’m going. It’s the first step to guide me into self-editing without derailing my overall writing progress.

As I scan through it I stop to polish and tweak whatever immediately jumps out. Grammar and spelling errors, setting/time/seasonal details, etc. I may update a line of dialogue or compare a character’s description to the profile I created in the beginning to make sure it matches.
By doing quick things like this as I go, it saves time later during self-editing. As a writer navigating through a story with three, sometimes four, different perspectives this can sometimes be the only thing that keeps me from losing track of the details.

Q: Should I stop halfway through a messy first draft to self-edit?

A: This is another crossroads question. There’s technically no reason why I can’t stop when I feel like it to self-edit, especially when I already know something major needs to change. I think it largely depends on what my bottom line is.

Solution: If I know ahead of time that something needs to change or that I want to take the story in a different direction, I go back and fix things before continuing. This saves time and effort later. However, many of my ideas change as I go, so I usually end up writing multiple drafts anyway. I’m not afraid to start tearing things up as I go, knowing I’ll be polishing during self-editing later. I think the only way to avoid this is to put a lot of time and effort into exploring my outline and then sticking to it once I begin. Some writers love to outline- I don’t. Much of what I end up with in a final draft comes from being picky and redrafting.
I keep in mind that doing this right in the middle of my story can stunt my writing growth, especially if I’m in the thick of the plot. At this point, it might be better for me to complete the draft and then make the changes I want in the next one.

 

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Q: How do I know if I should cut a scene while self-editing?

A: This is a tricky one. As a writer, I intuitively know what needs to be part of a scene and what doesn’t, but sometimes I ignore that “gut” feeling because I’m still developing my story. The problem is, I don’t always see that I’m using background or filler information instead of events that move my plot forward.

Solution: Here’s where discipline and my “self-editing eyes” are essential. If I’m asking this question, chances are the scene needs to go. How much depends on the story and what’s happening. It might be that a piece of it is needed or perhaps it’s in the wrong order or place. It could also mean that it needs to be rewritten.

If I’m not getting a definitive feeling either way, it’s most likely because I’m not looking at things with my “self-editing eyes.” I ask myself what relevance this particular scene has to the plot. If it doesn’t further it in a direct way—meaning it doesn’t influence a character’s decision, have them reacting to an event, or prompt them to act—then it’s safe to say it’s just background fluff. Some of this fluff is necessary, but not a whole scene. For example, background information about my main character’s family. If those family members don’t appear in the book at all, it’s best to keep things brief and not devote an entire scene to going over lineage. Another thing to consider are dream sequences and flashbacks. These have to have a purpose to be kept in the final draft.

Related Posts:

How To Start Editing My Book: Beginner’s Guide

Q & A: Common Editing Questions Answered!

How To Find A Book Editor In 6 Easy Steps

Q: Am I rewriting my story too much?

A: To determine the answer to this question, I have to ask myself why I’m rewriting. It’s not a mistake to write more than one draft—in fact, it’s often necessary to make my book even better. However, there’s a fine line between redrafting with a purpose and rewriting to procrastinate. Self-doubt can play a role in this. If I’m a perfectionist or feel insecure about sharing my work, it’s easy to fall into the habit of always “tweaking” things. It can also be a symptom of not truly knowing the story I want to tell. Both of these reasons aren’t beneficial, but how can I change them so I can finally move forward?

Solution: I have to ask myself why I’m changing it. If the answers I come up with highlight legitimate weaknesses in my story, then chances are it’s necessary to rewrite. But if I can’t find a reason beyond just being unhappy with it, then there’s probably another root cause. I take a deep breath and look at the facts objectively. Stories are meant to be shared with the world, right? If I write them, then they need to be read. That’s the whole point of writing in the first place. The best way to overcome writing doubts is to take the plunge. I can have a trusted friend read my work and give feedback, join a writing community like the one on Instagram, or enter that poetry or short story contest I’ve been thinking about. Starting small will give me the chance to build up my confidence before I start the publishing journey.

Q: What are beta readers and how do I use them?

A: Beta readers are awesome! These are the other writers, bookworms, and friends who can provide objective perspectives and critiques of my work. Their honest opinions are integral to the editing process. I typically reach out to people I’d like to review my work and decide whether I’m sending a few chapters or the whole thing. I also come up with some guidelines or specific questions I want them to keep in mind while they read—things like pacing, setting, consistency, and what they thought of the characters. I can personalize these questions to fit my needs. If you’re looking to find beta readers of your own, joining writing groups on Instagram, Facebook, and your local area is a good place to start!

Self-editing can be a challenging yet rewarding part of the writing journey. By staying organized, finding the process that works best for me, and using my “self-editing eyes,” I can turn my draft into a polished piece of art. Remember, it’s all about progress, not perfection. Whether I’m tweaking as I go or saving the edits for later, the key is to keep moving forward and not let self-doubt hold me back. With the help of beta readers and a supportive writing community, I can confidently share my stories with the world.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure—happy writing and happy editing! Don’t forget to subscribe to my monthly newsletter for more tips and tricks. Let’s keep creating amazing stories together!

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Alina (1)

Alina Wells is an author, blogger, and development editor based in the Midwest. When she's not helping writers, writing her debut novel, or building her fantasy author empire, she's reading under trees, cooking yummy things, spending time with her husband, or catering to her miniature pinscher overlord. She loves reading fantasy, young adult, and romance and has never met a pumpkin-spice product she didn't like.

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