Self-Editing: Be Your Own Best Critic

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Author: Jess O’Mahony

Whether you are writing a history essay or a potential Pulitzer-prize winning piece of literature, self-editing can be one of the most difficult things to do. Below are some of the tactics I incorporate into my writing process; I hope they prove useful for you.



 I find ‘brainstorming’ works best for me. In fiction, for instance, brainstorm all the ideas that are related to your location, plot, and characters.

Then put your ideas and storyline into a storyboard. Make sure they are clear and concise so you know the most important things: who the characters are and what they are doing. When doing the storyboard make sure you get down a strong start that engages the audience, and plot your key moments, culminating in a strong resolution. Here you’re working with the bare bones of the piece so make sure you’ve got a good structure!

Getting it down:

Flow: when it comes to the flow of your writing, make sure you remember that the vital thing is your content. Worry about how your sentences flow only at the editing/re-editing stages. Otherwise it can be crippling.

Remember: your first draft is your first draft. No one has to see it!


Compare your brainstorm and storyboard with your first draft — recheck your first draft corresponds to your storyline so that you’re not going off tangent.

Record yourself reading your piece out loud. Play it back. This is a useful way of monitoring the coherency of your sentences. Remember editing is not proofreading it involves checking if your structure (and sentence-structure) is right and that it flows for the readers. It is also important that it’s not too wordy so they lose interest.

Your writing voice may change over time. If you’re putting your piece together chronologically, then the voice you end with might be more mature than the voice you’re beginning with. Read it in completion and iron out any changes in tone.

‘Show, don’t tell’. This is something my English teacher told me, and my goodness was he right! It’s more interesting to let your reader see something unfold in front of them than to explain it to them and take away their right to judge it for themselves.

Phone a friend – One that is honest, kind, and hopefully intelligent.


Print out your work and edit it by hand. Screens can be deceptive and it is a lot easier to see your less obvious grammar mistakes. Also, it’s handy to have tangible copies–if your computer starts acting up at least you have to start from scratch.

Remember that spelling software is very good but the words like ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ can totally sink your creation if they’re (eh?) put in the wrong context.

On the topic of software, there are many apps out there created solely to help you with your writing. Pomodoro is excellent for time-management, breaking the work into bitesize chunks, and sites like Grammarly provide you with another layer of proofreading.

Finally, think about what inspired you to write it in the first place. The processes between inspiration and completion can be tedious, but remember why you chose to write on it (or why you need to write it!).

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


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