Things I Self-Edit Out of My Novels

Though I definitely like to have professional editors look at my novels, I always run through a general self-editing list, so that I do not waste a good editing opportunity by having my suggestions from the editor be things that I knew I should have fixed on my own.

What are some of those self-editing fixes?

Removing “ING” starting sentences like this one! Don’t get me wrong, I do not remove all of them, but in general you want to keep them to around 1-3% of your novel. ProWritingAid is great at catching this issue so you don’t get a headache looking for these or trying to calculate if you’ve used them too much. Also, I believe I get an incentive if you sign up with my link, just to be transparent.

Roaming body parts:
My main offender with roaming body parts generally has to do with the eyes. If your sentence sounds like “My eyes are pulled to his,” then you have a roaming body part because what can be visualized by the reader are eyeballs being pulled out of one’s head! This is easily fixed by swapping out “my eyes” for “my gaze.”

Announcing sensory actions:

Such as with the phrases: I feel, I see, I hear, I know, I realize, I wonder. Removing any of these phrases within a sentence can generally make the sentence stronger. For example, rather than saying: I wonder if he’s thinking about me to. You could say: Is he thinking about me to? There is more voice and personality in the second sentence. We also strengthen our sensory language when you remove phrases like “I see.” Rather than saying “I hear his voice full of urgency as he whispers in my ear” we might say “His voice is full of urgency as he whispers in my ear.”

Telling emotions rather than showing:

People get tired of hearing this rule, but it is generally a good one! If you find yourself using words like: angry, sad, embarrassed, confused, happy, then try showing that emotion instead. So rather than saying, “She never felt more embarrassed in her life,” show the way she curls in on herself or how redness spills across her cheeks.

Distancing the POV:

This is a harder one for most beginning writers to pick up on, but if anyone tells you that they had trouble connecting with your character, it might be because you are distancing the POV or point of view. You can fix this by getting rid of words like “our” and “us” and “we” when the story should be told (generally) from your character’s perspective of “she” or “he” or “I” depending on what person your story is told in. For example: We heard a crashing noise behind us and turned to see the monster. Even though the whole group probably did react this way, it distances us from the main character. It can be fixed by saying: I heard a crashing noise behind me and turned to see the monster. If we know others are in the scene, we can assume they had similar reactions unless otherwise pointed out.

Remove ableist words:

There is a push to remove ableist words from novels if possible. Those are words like: crazy, stupid, insane, idiot, etc. I’m still working on the best ways to remove these words and still get my point across with the same YA tone. But rather than saying “I’m so stupid” when a character makes a mistake I might say “I can’t believe I did that.” It works for me sometimes 🙂

Personal Overused Words:

There are several blog posts that list overused words like “that” and “just” which you can used Ctrl+F to sift your novel for. However, not all of those words will apply to you, so I recommend making your own list of words you typically use out of habit. One of mine is “so,” which I use a lot in dialogue. “So, you want to make that list?”

These self-edits are not all that I could do, but I find they are the major ones I need to hit in order to really clean up my work. What about you? Put your editing tips in the comments!

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