AHA · Authors Helping Authors · Editing/Proofreading · Writing Tips

“How to Self-edit Your Novel” by Stefan Vucak

stefans edit picIf writing simply meant putting words on paper or into the computer, we would all have lots more fun. However, our readers might not think too much of our efforts. All of us have spent our primary school and high school years learning English: spelling, grammar, sentence and paragraph construction, writing essays…the memories are coming back? Yet, despite the best efforts of our teachers, many writers still haven’t mastered the craft. So, what’s the problem?

I am not talking about actually writing your opus, or how you tell the story; that’s a bucket of worms in its own right. What I want to focus on here is – for some – pure torture when it comes to editing that opus. An enterprising author will use his smarts and sidestep the entire process, handing the manuscript to an editor. Let him suffer the agonies stumbling over the rocks of your writing, right? Others will not bother at all, sublimely confident in the perfection of their work – to the horror of their readers. For those who treat their writing seriously will endeavor to edit their own material. Inevitable torture!

Okay, what’s the big deal about editing your own manuscript? It shouldn’t be a big deal really. In every writer’s toolkit, there needs to be a little guidebook that captures all the little irritating words every writer is prone to misuse. We all do it, and is something that only time and years spent writing will identify. The normal editing process goes something like this:

– Edit your material as your write

– Edit only after finishing a chapter or two

– Continually re-edit

– When the manuscript is done, edit it again – more than once!

What exactly are you editing? It all depends on your level of skill, but usually, the initial passes captures: punctuation errors, obvious grammar bloopers, awkward dialogue, elimination of unnecessary adjectives, passive sentences, point of view/head hopping, plot sinkholes. Some authors plot as they write, with predictable results. For those who have their detailed story outline done, the writing road should be pretty smooth – most of the time. There comes a moment with every book when I get a mental blank. How to deal with those was the subject of another post.

See: http://stefanvucak.com/beware-the-procrastination-demons/

However, the editing process can be more nasty and insidious.

Over the years, I developed a certain writing style, what the pundits call a ‘voice’; something unique that everyone should develop. That can be difficult, especially if, like me, you get to admire a certain author and how he writes. Naturally, you try to emulate his style, which most of the time doesn’t work. I had to create my own style. I wear it like a glove and I don’t have to think too much about the mechanics of writing. However, with that style comes a baggage of rocks that littered my novels, and something I must always work on with every new book. What are those rocks? For me, they are mostly redundant words, or words I tend to overuse. With the latter, the problem is easily rectified through the Word ‘Find’ function – a great device!

During the proofreading phase, I invariably come across a word or two that I seem to have used just a few paragraphs or pages before. The ‘Find’ function lets me scan the manuscript, identifying all its occurrences, allowing me to make any necessary changes. The insidious part comes with redundant words and contractions! Some writers use contractions everywhere, and some don’t do it enough. In both cases it is annoying for the reader. What are those redundant words? Some of the gems are:



been – with the above





There are lots and lots more, but the above are my favorites. Why are those words redundant? Most sentences can be written without using them or losing any meaning. Those words are lazy, having crept into our writing without us being conscious of them; something like taxes. When one of those words is used, read the sentence aloud with and without that word. Most of the time, you will find the sentence works perfectly fine without it. Sometimes, however, the word is required, and of course, you use it. No need to be dogmatic about it. The key to their usage is: use them in moderation!

A particular pet hate word for me is ‘that’. It is so easy to churn out a sentence with that thing. In most cases, the word should be eliminated, but this often requires rewriting – not always easy. In the above sentence, I could have used ‘the’ instead. Littering your manuscript with ‘that’ might not be obvious to you as the author, but it certainly will be to your readers. When tempted, refrain! When writing, have a list of pet hate words pasted on the wall in front of you. Have them burned into your memory – and don’t use them if at all avoidable!

Below are some websites that list words writers should either avoid using, or use them sparingly. This may help your writing, or not.



Happy editing!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of the sci-fi Shadow Gods series of books. His contemporary political thriller Cry of Eagles has won the coveted 2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award, and his All the Evils was the 2013 prestigious Eric Hoffer contest finalist.

Website: www.stefanvucak.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/StefanVucak

Twitter: @stefanvucak

What do you think of Stefan’s points about self-editing? Do you have anything to add? Feedback is always appreciated.

9 thoughts on ““How to Self-edit Your Novel” by Stefan Vucak

  1. Stefan: I take part in several writers’ discussion groups. Whenever I admit to editing my own work, the “professionals” bombard me with comments, which insist my writing has to be substandard. However, my sales, long run of excellent reviews and returning readers, suggest otherwise. I have a system of editing that starts by measuring the frequency of word occurrences and doesn’t end until I have eliminated almost all the wiggly lines thrown up by selecting all the proofreading options in Word 2010. I would love to have my novels edited by a professional, but from the sample edits I’ve received to date, I have found only one that measures up to a standard I could find acceptable. My work may not be perfect, but at least, it is my work.


    1. Great feedback, Philip. Unfortunately, some editors out there can be predators, which tarnishes all the good ones. And you are right about having sample edits done first.

      Your editing approach sounds good and your sales support your methodology.


  2. Using autocrit.com has helped me out with spotting overused words. I use “can,” “feel,” “look,” and other words a lot as well, and autocrit points it all out for me. It’s tedious as anything to sift through and find overused words, but sure makes for a tighter story when you’re done. Autocrit also catches overused phrases and scores your work as far as readability goes.


  3. Great heads-up with Autocrit.com, Nikki. I ran a sample page through it, and although I do not agree with everything it pointed out, it did show me one or two word usages I could have done without. I agree that with a novel, going through the system’s responses would be tedious, but the tool has possibilities.


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