Bringing Out the Knife: Editing Your Own Work

Without a doubt, my favorite part of writing a story is the writing itself. This may sound silly or overly obvious, but let me explain.

There are many “fruits” that emerge from the labor of love that is creating a book. There’s the planning, research, and thought that goes into it—the characters, story, setting, and so forth. This part looks different for everyone and involves a lot of moving parts. Then there’s the moment when the product is finished and you’re holding a completed manuscript in your hands. But my favorite part is the daily grind, the moments when you’re diving deep into yourself as you write and write… and write some more. You can really get lost in there, ya know? Lost in the world you’ve created with the characters who are so familiar to you now. It’s truly an escape.

But there is a moment in this journey that many authors don’t want to talk about. For the most part, this is because it’s terribly intimidating and involves some intense discipline.

Editing your own work.

As hard as this can be, it’s something that must be done before you send it to publishers, and I even suggest doing it before you send it to a professional editor as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I always, always advise having your manuscript professionally edited before you send it to publishers (you’d expect that from an editor, right?). But really, professional editing is crucial when it comes to your book being accepted by a traditional publisher. They want a good story, and errors will have them lay down your book before the story even begins.

So yes, editing is important! Shameless plug? Maybe. But also worth knowing!

Side note: I’ve written about the different editing styles and how they can impact your book for the better here, here, and here if you’d like to know more about this.

However, professional editing aside, there’s some editing you can do yourself before you even send it to those editors. As a matter of fact, there’s a type of editing that you as the author will be the best equipped to do—this includes things like cutting information that may be cluttering up your narrative and refining your plot and characters.

In my opinion, this is the hardest part of the process for authors because we want so badly to believe our books are absolutely perfect the way they are, with each sentence serving a unique purpose… even if it’s only the first draft. Trust me, I understand this difficulty—writing can bring out our self-conscious tendencies, especially since it’s such an incredibly personal experience for many of us. We don’t want there to be problems, so we turn a blind eye.

I’ve always heard it’s hardest to edit your own writing—it’s true! But it must be done, and you’re the expert when it comes to your book. Professional editors can help, too, of course, but it’s best for you to be the first person to do this type of analysis. Editors can help you fine-tune when you reach that point, but we’ll get to that part later. First, you must be the one to come at it with a blade, or even some extra material when needed!

Doing this successfully involves a change in mindset. You’re going from creator and writer to editor. You have to change your perspective so that you’re able to view your book objectively. At this point, you must realize your book is still in the development stage—and that’s okay! Just like anything undergoing growth and progress, this is natural. It’s time to gather your materials: blades for cutting and refining as well as extra material that may be needed to flesh out storylines and characters.

For this change in mindset, of course there are ways to change emotionally, but I’ve known authors to change physically during this time, too. There was an author I read about once who had an “editing” hat he would wear whenever it was time for him to edit a chapter. Donning that hat helped him retreat into his editing mindset, where he wouldn’t take his changes too personally. Something like that may be helpful for you as well!

Now, let’s get to the real question: What goes into editing your own work? What are you looking for?

Like we’ve mentioned, the main thing you as the author will be equipped to do is analyze your story and characters to figure out if:

There’s any extra material weighing down the narrative that should be cut.


There are parts of the story/characters that need to be fleshed out a little more to ensure your story is dynamic, cohesive, and understandable.

In a nutshell, what we need here is a developmental edit done by you, the author. This is where you look at all of the big picture elements of the story and edit as needed.

Now that you’re wearing your editing hat and you’re ready to analyze your book objectively, here are some common issues that may come up as you edit.

  • Character development issues. Analyzing characters is my favorite part of editing. In your editing process, this is where you’ll take a good look at your characters’ behavior and actions during each and every moment of the book. Think about where they are mentally every second. What are they doing? How will those events affect them? Ensure your characters are accomplishing what you want them to in order to push the story along while still being true to who they are and their situations. You want your audience to understand them, connect to where they’re coming from, and relate to them—make them as realistic as possible by analyzing their every move. This includes minor characters as well. Be thorough!
  • Pacing. This is sometimes hard to spot. Contrary to popular belief, good pacing doesn’t mean rushing to the action so your readers don’t get bored. As a matter of fact, each book’s pacing will be very different depending on the genre, character focus, the story itself—everything. What you need to do is monitor the pacing of your book and ensure it’s accomplishing your objectives. This means reading your book multiple times and being completely honest with yourself—are there moments when important scenes rush by, with the readers not gleaning enough information or import from what’s going on? Or maybe some scenes seem to drag on with a lot of unnecessary detail? This is an issue where an editor can come in handy, but it starts with you.
  • Plot inconsistencies. This is a biggie. As you edit your book, it’s a good idea to take note of all the important points. Is everything lining up? Does everything make sense? Make an outline of your book and ensure there aren’t any loose ends.
  • Refining details. This is where the sharp knife comes in, as well as a lot of honesty. Take that knife and analyze individual scenes, dialogue, characters—all of it! Is there anything unnecessary that doesn’t truly contribute to the story? If so, cutting it is worth considering. This is even the case with characters! I recently encountered a story that contained a character’s perspective that didn’t really accomplish anything for the book. It felt forced, and I wasn’t very sure why this person was mentioned at all. After thinking long and hard about it, the author decided to delete this person’s perspective from the narrative, which only consisted of a couple of scenes. Decisions like this can be difficult, but they’re worth it in the end!
  • Building and fleshing out. On the other side, there will also be parts of the book where more information may need to be added. Perhaps you have a scene that rushes by quickly with dialogue that needs to be more thorough for the reader to truly understand what’s going on or the implications behind it. If that’s the case, then more material can be added! This is especially true when it comes to character development. I’ve had authors add chapters of material. One specific instance that comes to mind is when I was working with the author of a fantasy romance novel. After going through a round of editing, she decided to reanalyze the main characters’ romance and added a couple of chapters that were strictly dedicated to developing their relationship so her audience could understand them better. It was such a transformation! Discipline along with intense analysis can help you decide where material should be added.
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These are only a couple of things that could come up during your editing process. Like we always say, every book is different and will have different needs. The key is making that switch from writer to editor, putting on your editing hat, and developing a mindset that’s unafraid of the changes that may come.

You know your book better than anyone else—don’t be afraid to edit it and make it the best it can be!

If you’d like to talk about this topic further, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to give tips or just be a cheerleader and encourager as you go through this part of the journey. Also, if you’d like to discuss your professional editing possibilities, I’d be happy to talk with you about that as well.

Let’s go, writers! Pull out those knives—it’s time to get started.

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