Skip to main content

Easy Self-Edits

This popular post first published on February 18. We are sharing some of our past favorites this month so that all our contributors have time to enjoy the holiday season.

Bookmark and Share

I’m fine-tuning the novel I just finished writing, and these are some of the edits I’m consistently making. They can help you as you write or edit your own novel.

1. Get rid of unnecessary prepositional phrases. When you read back through your manuscript, watch for phrases like on the table, toward the door, near the wall. These phrases bog down your writing and often add little to a description. Readers can make a lot of assumptions. If two guys are standing in the driveway talking and one points at the tires, readers will assume you mean on the car. You don’t have to say it.

This is especially true at the end of sentences. A good sentences ends on a strong beat. That sentence is a great of example of what I mean. If I had added usually at the end of that sentence, it would have weakened it. In my manuscript, I came across this sentence: Katie put her waffle down on the paper in her lap. Ick!

I took off the first unnecessary phrase, then the second. Then I moved the word down to where it belongs—after the verb directing it. Now it reads: Katie put down her waffle. Much better! Nobody cares where the waffle went. The sentence is meant to show that what Katie is about to say is so important she wants no distractions.

2. Get rid of unnecessary pronouns. Here’s how a sentence in this blog read until I edited it: If two guys are standing in the driveway talking and one of them points at the tires, readers will assume you mean on the car. I took out of them. Readers know I meant the two guys, and the sentence reads better without the phrase. Other examples are phrases like himself or to me. Often you’ll discover they are unnecessary.

3. Be careful when using pronouns. I’ve gotten much better about this thanks to Stephen King’s On Writing, but I still see the problem in the fiction manuscripts I edit for others. In a confrontation scene with three guys, for example, the writer will use he and his repeatedly. It’s confusing. In these situations, be redundant, regardless of whose POV you’re writing from. Use each man’s name every time you refer to him. Readers will appreciate it.

Jake picked up the gun and aimed it at Seth. Seth ran for the door, while Carl yelled, “Don’t do this.” Jake lowered the gun. Carl lunged at a Jake. Seth kept running.
Even a single use of he in that paragraph could have made it hard to follow.

What are you catching in your writing as you go back and edit?

L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:


  1. I've gotten better at #3 - eliminating 'for her' 'of him' and the like. My biggest struggle when I began - overusing 'was.' By eliminating that word whenever possible, it forced me to make stronger sentences.

  2. Oh yes. SK's book On Writing changed my writing forever. This is good, good advice.

  3. "Katie put down her waffle." Love it! "Waffle" is such an interesting word with which to end this sentence I'm eager to hear what happens next.

  4. I, too, am an On Writing fan.

    Your advice helped this morning as I edited my short story. I got rid of an unnecessary prepositional phrase.


  5. Thanks for these great reminders. I'm getting close to the end of my novel's first draft and I'll use these. I wonder if you could post something about how to find and fix larger problems such as not finishing a thread in the story or inconsistencies in characterization, etc. I have great critiquers for the small stuff, but I don't want to miss any of the big stuff either.

  6. My easiest edit is substituting "was" constructions and adverbs for stronger verbs.

  7. Great tips and examples, L.J. I've really gotten manic about those prepositional phrases that aren't needed. I will point them out to clients, then work on my book and find them scattered throughout. One good thing, though, editing for other writers has helped me be more aware of some of those basic mistakes in my first drafts.

  8. Great post. One of my worst writing habits is the personal cliché. I overuse certain phrases which, by themselves, look fine, but turn up far too often within the same ms.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  9. I overuse personal favorites too. Helpful post. Thank you.

  10. Thank you for the excellent advise1

  11. I think I need to read King's book again- I think I took notes- but I can't remember.
    Thanks so much for these tips.
    In my WIP- about 35 pages into the novel, I changed the setting from a nondescript town to the town that I grew up in- It will probably take me and at least one editor to make sure it "fits". I will also need to make sure I haven't switched my POV.

  12. Editing other authors' work has made me a better writer too. I keep a list of things to check for in my own novel as I go along.

  13. Excellent advice. One of my recently acquired editing processes is that 'excessive prepositional phrase'slash and burn.

  14. Thanks for a few great tips!

  15. Excellent post, LJ! I'm going to send my clients here to read these great tips for self-editing.

  16. Good post, L.J. Sometimes when we edit our work, we're looking at the big things having to do with plot. We overlook the small things that can make a big difference.

  17. I still want to put in words like really and very to bring more attention to the sentence. I know that this doesn't help though.


Post a Comment

The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook