A Self-Editing Checklist

The “Your Questions Answered” Series


How about more tips on some of the pitfalls of writing? What are things to look for when you are self-editing?

Here is a short list:

  1. Grammar. Most people seem to have fallen asleep during the class on plural possessives, for example. Its and it’s can throw a reader.
  2. Weasel words: Look for terms that bog down your writing without adding impact. Those include just, really, and others.
  3. Adverbs: Except in dialogue, limit yourself to one per page at most.
  4. Passive voice: Unless there is an excellent reason to use passive voice, don’t. And especially don’t write a block of prose in passive voice.
  5. Cliched opening: Years ago, authors could get away with someone looking at the clouds out of an airplane window or studying their reflection in the mirror but not often today. Take us to where the story begins. Make us excited to read the rest of your book.
  6. Unsatisfying resolution: Don’t disappoint readers. They don’t want to waste several hours on a book without an ending that makes them sigh with relief, contentment, or both.
  7. Untrue to the genre: If you are writing in a genre, learn and follow the rules.

Your turn:

What did I miss?

For the entire series, click here: “Your Questions Answered.”

18 Responses to A Self-Editing Checklist

  1. Audra Sanlyn October 1, 2020 at 3:52 am #

    These lists are a life-saver when you’re staring at a manuscript, overwhelmed by all the dos and don’ts of the editing process.
    Another pitfall I’ve seen is point of view issues like head-hopping. If Bob and Steve are in a coffee shop (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) and you’re in Bob’s POV, you can’t mention what the bagel tasted like to Steve. It’s hard as writers because we’re in every character’s head, but it’s amazing how it brings the story to life and keeps the reader in the moment.

    • Debra Wallace October 1, 2020 at 2:20 pm #

      True and important to remember. Thank you for pointing this out, Audra!

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 1, 2020 at 5:42 am #

    Its so truly madly deeply
    wrong that I’m asked not to write
    a opening boldy apt (completely!),
    “‘Twas a dark and stormy night.”
    For the night was dark and stormy,
    when by the hero she was woo’d,
    an Amish girl who was quite barmy
    and, really, terror of the ‘hood.
    And her father, he was worse;
    buttonless, but thick gold chains,
    and on lovers set a curse
    that hero’d have to use his brains
    and the ending thus is made:
    “Choose a door, tiger or babe?”

    • Sharon K Connell October 1, 2020 at 9:19 am #

      Andrew, I get such a kick out of your poetry. Truly love it. If you would like to send me some poems for the Author’s Pen section of my monthly newsletter, I’ve welcome them. Not sure if I can leave a contact here, but you can Google my name and click on the sites that come up, including my website to let me know.

      Keep up the good work.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 1, 2020 at 4:25 pm #

        Sharon, I’m so honoured!

        I will look for you through Google, to send some stuff.

  3. Sharon K Connell October 1, 2020 at 9:31 am #

    Thank you for this great list, Tamara.

    At the moment, the only thing I can think of to add to your list is character’s names. How often you use the name vs. a pronoun. One of my 3 editing programs does that for me by highlighting the repeated names. I choose one character, then run through the highlighted name to see if it’s balanced in the story or overused. The same method is used with the pronouns to see if it’s clear to the reader who is being mentioned or speaking, or should I mention the name instead. Critiquers are good at catching that, but I like to send them the best copy I can so they can focus on other things in my story. And it makes your final editor’s job easier so you can get your work back for publishing sooner. 🙂

    Well worth the time and effort.

  4. Tamera Lynn Kraft October 1, 2020 at 9:38 am #

    I agree with the list but would also add POV. It annoys me to no end to read a story where people head hop or the POV is not clearly established until half-way through the scene. Also I would add fulfill promises to the reader. In a suspense story I read recently, a boy learned to shoot a gun, then when the bad guy came after his mother, he didn’t shoot. Very disappointing.

  5. frankcaudle76@gmail.com October 1, 2020 at 9:48 am #

    Is there a program that is an adverb counter???

    • Virginia Graham October 1, 2020 at 9:54 am #

      Yes, ProWritingAid will highlight adverbs.

  6. Abby Martin October 1, 2020 at 10:14 am #

    Tamela, I have a question. I am a young writer, and I was wondering if using Grammarly is accurate when checking for grammar, usage, and mechanics (I only use the free extension for Microsoft Word. I don’t have the premium version). I use Grammarly when checking my work, then I re-read my work for a double check as well as have the generated voice read it aloud for me. Is this okay to do? Thanks! 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray October 1, 2020 at 6:54 pm #

      I think highly of Grammarly. Someone as conscientious as yourself will do a fine job!

      • Abby Martin October 2, 2020 at 10:22 am #

        Wonderful! Thanks! It is great to get a second opinion. 🙂

  7. Kristen Joy Wilks October 1, 2020 at 12:46 pm #

    Great List! I like to open random books and just read the first line. For me, checking that the first page promises something compelling and that the ending fulfills that promise is a must!

  8. Dinah Rogers October 1, 2020 at 2:27 pm #

    Hire an editor! As a writer AND editor, I can confidently say that self-editing is only a FIRST pass before you turn your baby over to an editor. You will gain soooo much help with grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and clarity. A good editor will respect your voice and your story, and do as much or as little as YOU direct — just a little weeding or heavy duty pruning and transplanting? (I’ve been in the gardent today.) She will guide you to make it the best it can be. Your goal is to be read, right, and to be develop a following? An editor can be your best friend, and there are great freelancers to be found.

    • Abby Martin October 2, 2020 at 10:26 am #

      Great advice, I will keep this in mind as well.

  9. OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU October 1, 2020 at 2:49 pm #

    Thanks so much Tamela for these nuggets of advice! God bless you. I wish I had known some of these before sending out my work. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Please find time to answer Abby Martin’s question on Grammarly. This really helps!

    • Abby Martin October 2, 2020 at 10:23 am #

      It’s already been answered, my sister in Christ! 😉

  10. Joyce K. Ellis August 2, 2021 at 9:39 am #

    Conscientious writers may find help for self-editing in the humorous grammar book Write with Excellence 201 (written by a person I’ve known my whole life :).
    All for Him!
    Joyce K. Ellis,
    author of Write with Excellence 201

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