After writing for about 20 years, and writing consistently for the last 10, I’ve picked up some methods for self-editing that have made my editors and beta-readers thank me for not making their jobs more difficult than they need to be. If any of these work for you, sound off in the comments.
1. Keep your style consistent
Whether you use convoluted words, a poetic style, or you like to trim the fat, keep it consistent. Don’t listen to people who say “don’t use big words because they will confuse your reader” — I learn new words everyday and I file them away in the library of my mind (only to be lost in the chaos as the bookshelves fall over, but that’s another story). Once I learn a new word, I can then apply it to my own writing and hopefully teach someone else a new word. Anyone who thinks that they will confuse their reader doesn’t have much respect for their reader. If that’s your style, then go for it!
2. Read it out loud
This one helps for making sure the text makes sense in case you have missed words, and also for readability. If it doesn’t sound good to your ears, it won’t read well.
3. Fatten it up
I don’t subscribe to “trimming the fat” — if it’s unnecessary, I will take it out, but I have problems with not being able to write enough. Depending on what kind of medium you’re going for (and you can google what length you need for each specific medium), and if you’ve done your job right, people will want to keep reading what you’ve written. So keep writing!
4. Repetition results in remembering
You don’t have to say the same thing in the same way each time, but if you have a central argument, you want to repeat it at least a couple times, bringing each of your points back to that argument when appropriate.
5. Online proofreading tools are your friend
Grammarly, Grammark, Hemmingway, NOUNPLUS, Scribens — whatever your preferred tool is, use it!
6. Use words with more oomph
“The cat got onto the counter” is a dead, dull, dreary sentence. “The cat sprung onto the counter, its tail sticking out like an antenna as it sluiced through the air” is a much better sentence.
7. Passive voice can be good sometimes!
Depending on how you’re using it. Don’t be afraid to experiment with it. Maybe your readers can be lulled into a false pretence… before you strike with your powerful action verbs.
8. Almost all grammar and editing rules can be broken
The caveat is: if you know how to break them. Learn all the rules you possibly can (the internet has plenty of free resources, but I also enjoy The Little Brown Handbook as a go-to guide) and then figure out how to break them on your own. Good luck!