The Art of Self-Editing
Yes, self-editing is an art. Most authors/writers have an editor or should have an editor that is not themselves, and this is not what I mean. When that third or fourth, or even tenth draft is finished, it's time to edit.
Editing means a lot of different things, and is not the same as proofreading (which should always be done). Authors should always have a second, maybe third set of eyes, and they probably will. Self-editing prepares the manuscript for that next set of eyes, such as editors, publishers, beta readers (yes, don't have your beta readers be your editors), and book reviewer, etc...
Here are a few tips that I've done over the years that helps me with self-editing. Take it or leave it, but I've learned that it helps. This is not just for errors, typos, but also for content.
When editing, you want to make sure that the story makes sense, there is a conclusion to the plots or subplots (if that's what you're looking for), characters have depth, even minor characters, and any placeholder text you may have is fixed or removed. (I don't use placeholders, but I know some authors who will use placeholder text for character names, descriptions or something else and will go back and correct the placeholder. If you do this, make sure you know what your placeholder text is. You don't want to finalize your story and when it goes to print realize that the character you named as X or Y still has that "name").
These tips are in the order that I do them, not they do not have to be done in a particular order. I have a system that works for me.
Use the built-in grammar and spelling checker that comes with your word processing software. I also use Ginger Tools and sometimes I use the free online editor "Pro-Writing Aid" which has free and monetary packages for online and software download use. Ginger Tools has similar features, except it's a monthly fee based on subscription. Both are easy to use.
Walk away, return and read. Yes, you've been writing for days and fixing the story, and now you think it's just about done. Good. Walk away from it. Give yourself enough time (you'll figure out how much) to not think about the story. Sometimes I will read something totally unrelated to get me out of the "head space" of my project. When you're back and ready to go, read it through. If you read it through on the computer, tablet, whatever, do it. Make changes if you wish, corrections and then finish the story.
Print and read. Print out the manuscript and read it through. You may want to double space the print copy so you can write in the margins and note errors. I use a red pen. Color of pen is optional. If you find that you want to do more than a few notes, such as add a chapter, paragraph, go back to the manuscript, fill in that, and then reprint and read it again.
Read it out loud. Now that you've had it printed out, and read it silently to you, make the corrections you've noted during your print read through, and then print it out again or look at it on the computer, and you read it out loud yourself. This is especially good for dialogue.
Let the computer read it to you. Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat have speech or read aloud features. I'm sure there are others as well. I convert my MS Word document (without page numbers or headers, since Adobe will read those as well) to a PDF file. I let my computer read the manuscript to me. I also have the original document open to make changes as I "hear" them.
Convert to a digital format
Once I've made those corrections to the document, I convert the document to a digital format such as mobi (which is for kindle) and email it to my Kindle Device. This allows me to see the book how the reader will see the book. Errors that have not yet been caught will sometimes be caught.
Once you've read it for errors and changes you wish to make, then read it again but from the reader's point of view.
After a while, you will learn about your overuse of certain words or phrases, and how to rectify them. I have a notebook that I keep track of them, so I can do a search in my manuscript and change accordingly. When I'm writing the story, I don't worry about the overuse of phrases or words, just getting the story from my head to the paper (or computer).
If you have any self-editing tips and would like to share them, email me at email@example.com and I'd be glad to share some with my audience.
While I do have a BA in English, and an MA in Adult Education, it is always better to have a second pair of eyes (or third) and it is always easier to edit or review someone else's work than your own.