How to Self-Edit Your Manuscript: My Process

A frequent question I’ve received recently is “How do you self-edit?” mainly in regards to…how do I edit MY work?

This question arose from some authors who where panicking curious about certain editing pictures I shared on Facebook:


Questions I received in response to these pictures:

  • “Do you do that every time?” – Um…no
  • “Do I need to do that with my manuscript?” – Erm…probably not. I only do this out of desperation.
  • “Why did you do this? How in the world did it help?” – That’s another blog post in itself.
  • “What is your process when you self-edit?” – Well…since you asked…

So I’ve put together a little summary on how I self-edit my manuscripts. (Tweet this) Keep in mind, this is my ideal process, but it’s very time consuming so I rarely get to do this thanks to deadlines.

Understanding different edits

Before I get into my process, you need to understand that there are different types of edits. (Tweet this) I’m a freelance editor, I’ve learned that there are different types and with those different types I need a different brain. It’s a completely different mind-set when I’m editing each line for typos than when I’m editing a manuscript for plot holes. So, in short, here are the different types of edits that I’m most familiar with. They often go by different names:

  • Editorial Review — This is a giant overview. I read through an entire story without making changes, but keeping a list of plot holes, flat characters, weird scenes, etc.
  • Comprehensive Critique — much more in-depth, looking for plot/character/pacing/scene issues line-by-line.
  • Line Edit — cleaning up sentences so they’re smoother. Wording, punctuation, transitions, and such.
  • Copyedit — The last smooth-over. Fixing grammar, punctuation, typos, etc.

You can read the more in-depth descriptions of them on my editorial services page. Now, on to my personal process:



Frodo thought he had it hard taking a bit of jewelry to a volcano? Oh pleaseFirst drafts are more difficult than a hobbit’s quest to Mordor…and take longer, too. (Tweet this) Some people will tell you not to edit as you write. Some will tell you to edit a little bit as you write. Some will say that you should go back and edit all the time. *shrug* I don’t know that there’s a right answer.

I write slowly, which helps me to get a cleaner draft out. But I try not to agonize over editing because that takes a completely different brain.


Once you finish the draft, let it sit for a month or two (or three). You need a break from this story! During your time off, read fun books, read writing craft books, work on a different project, learn marketing, whatever. Just get your brain out of your story for a while! (This is a luxury step. I rarely get to do this because of deadlines.)


Return to your story and read through it. You might be surprised that it’s not as horrible as you thought it was. 😛 This is also where you start to catch some of the little things. Keep a list (don’t try to fix them right away!)


Now it’s time to do the hard core editing. Think or read through your story with one focus. Write down the areas that need to be fixed (or just fix them as you go.) You’re going to do this over and over and over, focusing on a different aspect/character of your story each time through. Why? Because your brain can’t handle trying to fix the main plot and the protagonist’s inner journey and the spiritual thread and the villain’s plot all at the same time.

Here’s a little checklist you could use when you’re in this phase:

  • Main plot
  • Protagonist’s external journey
  • Protagonist’s inner journey (you do have an inner journey…right?)
  • Spiritual thread (aka: main message) This can be closely tied to the protagonist’s inner journey
  • Side plots
  • Side characters
  • Villain’s journey

Then think through each character’s journey. Does it feel complete? Does that character have a purpose to his/her existence? Do this with the plot and mini plots, too. Write down all the holes you might see, even if you don’t know how to fix them. Also use this time to simply write down the parts of your story that you just plain dislike. SELF-EDITMaybe they’ll stay the way they are, maybe they won’t, but they deserve a good brainstorming.


I know, I know…you hate it at this point. But this is where you make sure everything flows. Get your cup of cocoa, coffee, or favorite tea and just read through the manuscript fixing small things as you go. This is where you do line-edit stuff. Fix those flat descriptions, eliminate the 700 times your character nods/grins/swallows/does-something-generic.


Yes. You. All of you.

I know this is getting a bit off the path of “self-editing” but I might as well lay out my entire process for you. 😛

I’m published, my publishing house has its own editors, and I still hire the fantastic Jeff Gerke to do an Editorial Review on every novel I write. This will never change. Why? Because I like his editing style, oh yeah…and he’s brilliant. He understands the genre I write. Also, I like  I like having his and the publishing house’s feedback. Two pairs of eyes are better than one.

A professional editor will see plot holes and gaps and inconsistencies that you’ll never catch on your own because you’re too close to the story. (Obviously, this is optional because sometimes we can’t afford an editor. My response to that is…wait and save. 😉 That’s what I do.)


Maybe I shouldn’t include this as a required step…

Still, after I get my manuscript back from a professional editor, I’ll take a few weeks to have a temper tantrum and wallow in my “I’m-a-horrible-author” pouty phase. Then I’ll recover and I’ll be able to apply that editor’s feedback.

It’s amazing how your mindset changes when you give yourself time off from an editor’s feedback. The closest thing to magic.


Okay, you don’t have to take every piece of advice your editor gives you. I usually take about 50% of what they say. Then I analyze the other 50% and think about why they made those suggestions. Then when I understand the reasoning, I’ll see if maybe I have a different solution for the problem.

Learn from these edits! An editor isn’t just there to “change your story for you.” That will never happen. A good editor will give examples and explain writing craft issues. They will teach you to be a better writer through their comments and suggested changes. It’s your job to learn and then become a better author from that.


After that, send it off to some friends, fellow authors, beta readers maybe. I send mine to 3-4 beta readers. These are friends/critique partners who may or may not be writers, readers, teens, adults, etc. I try to get a mixture so the feedback isn’t just from one person’s point-of-view.

After I’ve applied all of their suggestions (at least, the ones I like), I’ll send it to my publisher and then it starts that process all over again. 😛


Phew! Are you as tired as I am after reading this? Go get some chocolate.

Any questions about my little list? (Doesn’t it make me sound organized and all put-together?) 😛

What was your favorite point? How do you like to edit?




About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.
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  1. In my most recent manuscript, I discovered that reading your work in a variety of formats really helps. First, I read over it several times in Scrivener (my preferred writing software).

    Then, I printed the entire thing out and went over it by hand. Yes, that’s extremely daunting, but you’ll be glad you did it.

    After that, I exported the file in a .mobi format so I could read it on my iPad using the iBooks app.

    Every step of the way, new revisions, edits, and corrections jumped out at me. There’s just something about seeing your work in a different format that helps you spot (and fix) problems.

    • Thou ist genius!
      Not to mention reading it out loud. Now I just want to go add a whole extra step to my blog….

      But those are great points, Clint. I tend to read my book in the different formats after the professional edit (and weeping) stage. On paper is my favorite — that’s when I catch the most. 🙂

  2. Weeping. Yes, that is a necessary step. 😉
    I was a bit surprised by the beta readers being last. See, I wouldn’t want to do ALL that over AGAIN, so I send out to betas before the professional edit. Maybe I’m just lazy. ;p
    Great post Nadine!!!!

    • That’s just how I do it, and I think a lot of other readers will send it out to beta readers first.

      I like to put them near last because:
      1) I hate the idea of them reading an absolutely horrible manuscript. Then, if I make a lot of changes, they’d have to read it a second time (if they purchased the book.) Ugh. I had a pretty tough experience with this with my first book — A Time to Die — before I’d nailed down the “hope” thread in the plot. That left me with many depressed beta readers. :/

      2) Since beta readers tend to more just…./readers/, they’ll see the little plot things that even professional editors don’t catch. Like, “Wait, she’s escaping with a gun and then gets caught. Why didn’t she just shoot the bad guy?” Stuff like that.

      Again, just my personal process. 🙂

  3. My favorite point was “Go get some chocolate.” 😛

    This was a helpful post! I think I’ll bookmark it for when I get to edits. xD


    I wish I could just write a draft quickly, but I edit as I go. Any and every typo or discrepancy HAS to be fixed as I go. I can pour over a small section, or part of a scene, trying to best string the words together for hours.
    Once my draft is done, I read it about 200 times, over and over, editting it. :/ It drives me nuts!
    Getting opinions of friends, who read a few chapters, is refreshing! They’re looking at it through new eyes with new insight. My thanks to them!
    Thanks for sharing your process with us 🙂 . When my schedule calms down, I need to get better organized and develop a new system 😉

    • If it’s any consolation, it took me several years to find the system that works for me. It’s a trial-and-error life as an author. I hope you find yours soon! 🙂

  5. At what point do you like each piece of paper all over the ground like carpet? I didn’t see that on the list…

  6. #2 and #7 are definitely requirements… 🙂

  7. Pingback: Self-editing…yet another name for torture – Gabrielle

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