My Editing Method
I spend approximately sixteen hours per week self-editing my books and articles. At the beginning of my writing adventure, my editing did not have much structure; I made corrections where I saw fit. I enjoyed this activity and liked the result. I now understand that while this editing improved some aspects, it also introduced issues.
The problems occur when I edit without a plan, forgetting the big picture. I define the big picture as a book readers want to read. Haphazardly editing results in added junk, a meandering plot, and flawed logic. My favorite self-inflicted damage is to take a deep dive into thoroughly explaining the character’s brilliance. While explaining the motive is necessary, my boastful mess only insults the reader.
It took about two years to discover a strange self-editing/writing habit. After I create a sentence, I explain the same topic in the following sentence. “Bob walked to the door, opened it, and looked inside. After opening the door, he continued walking.” I think the repeating activity occurs because I subconsciously want the reader to understand the topic thoroughly. Another theory is that I know the work well and forget I mentioned something (or need to say something) and added it.
After much wasted self-editing, I have cobbled together a self-editing procedure, which I thought would be interesting to share. My process starts while writing the first draft. I first edit/read the previous two pages when I start writing. In this edit, I get a feel for what is happening and make changes where necessary. When I am entirely comfortable with the plot and flow, I begin writing where I left off. This method verifies I am ready to write and continues the prior plot flow.
When the book is finished, I do an editing pass to locate unclear sentences and high-level logic faults. “Bob died in the horrific car crash.” Later in the book, “Bob and James shared a cup of coffee.” Wait a minute. I thought Bob had died?
In this first pass, I have found instances where I used the wrong name for a character or referred to a book section that was removed or changed. The worst writing mistake I saw on a first pass was a duplicated sentence that probably resulted from a copy/paste error.
My next pass checks facts and minor logic issues. (An example would be hair color. It is terrible when it is black in the first chapter and brown in the second.) A character biography is super helpful at this stage. My third pass focuses on flow, where I try to take a high-level view to see how the sentences come together. My fourth pass is about dialog and dialog integration. Now, it is essential to point out why I have a pass dedicated to dialog. Dialog is unique because it has a different feel. It is not precise and can have incorrect grammar. So, it must be treated separately.
I then have three passes where I try to spot the issues I introduced during the first four self-edits. I try to color code parts of the document in purple to indicate a rough section or a section that underwent many changes.
When I feel confident I have located all the issues, I use the program ProWritingAid. This is an intelligent document-checking Microsoft Word add-in. Gahh. I’m not too fond of this part of the editing process. It points out many mistakes, like three sentences in a paragraph beginning with the same word and overused words. (I use “was” too often.) Each mistake ProWritingAid finds feels like a bee sting, and fixing the problems is tedious. However, the resulting sentences are more robust and flow better. Overall, this is the longest part of the self-editing process. I also noticed something else. My overused words are often in weak sentences. A blessing in disguise?
I will share a technique I learned to speed up the process. Examining a large document takes grammar plug-ins forever, so I created a temp file. Then, I copy an entire chapter, paragraph, or single sentence into this file and run the checker. Then I copy it back. I also use this temp file as a clipboard, which has been helpful.
Next, I run the add-in Grammarly. This powerful program finds everything. Its best feature is to identify words that sound the same but are spelled differently (homonyms, homophones, homographs, and heteronyms. Oh my.)
However, there are three big problems with Grammarly and ProWritingAid. First, they disagreed, and it wastes time when I redo updates. The second problem is the result reads stiff and has many commas. The third problem occurs when I disagree with their edits and must make a choice. Do I follow the advice from a professional program written by language experts? Or does grammar bonehead Bill leap into the expert chair? 95% of the time, I go with the professionals. So, my, writing, ends, up, with, lots, of, commas.
I then make two more passes that focus solely on flow. This is to clean up the stiff-as-a-board result generated by the grammar checkers. However, when I edit, I check it with Grammarly and ProWritingAid. The next step is to print out my work using double spaces and give it to my beta reader (mom), who edits it with a pen. She takes a much higher approach, and her notes are priceless. “This area does not make sense.” “What was Bob’s motivation?” “This area is weak.” “Not realistic.” “Consider deleting.” “Expand.” I greatly appreciate her input and effort in fulfilling her suggestions.
I then make one ProWritingAid pass and one Grammarly pass. Typically, this goes a lot faster. Lastly, two final passes focused on flow, and I have the confidence to send my document to a professional editor.
Wow, that is a long ordeal but worth the effort. A polished book is the mark of a good author, and readers cannot stand mistakes. It took three years to develop this process, and I wish I knew more initially. Still, self-editing remains a fun activity, or am I an obsessed perfectionist? Hmm. Something to write about and self-edit.

You’re the best -Bill
June 12 2019 Updated May 11, 2024

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