Self-Editing: When is Enough, Enough?

   Self-editing can be tricky knowing when to stop and leave well enough alone or continue to cut, cut, cut.  Cutting too much can leave unanswered questions and make the reader wonder if they missed something along the way.

 So, what do you cut? A general rule to follow is if it doesn’t pertain to the story, out it goes.  A good example is back and forth dialogue that does not give needed information.  Occasional light banter between two characters is fine but if it goes on for a page or more, cut it.

Flowery descriptions, otherwise known as purple prose, becomes excessive wording. Too many writers, old and new, use adjective after adjective in the same sentence thinking they’re creating detailed descriptions when in fact, are adding unnecessary words. Tall, dark, and handsome creates a strong, vivid image on the reader’s mind without paragraph after paragraph of physical attributes.

Repetitive words. We all have them. Mine is “just”.  Highlight them throughout your manuscript then hit delete. If it is an adjective or verb, find a synonym to replace it.  Watch out for repeated scenes or details. The reader doesn’t need to know that the “sun glinted off the fine, red hair on his forearms” every time the hero is outdoors.  Choose another attribute or mannerism to accentuate.

Too much information of a minor character leads the reader to believe he has an important role in the book when he’s merely background, like a movie extra. Limit the amount of exposure of these characters. Caution: Do not confuse minor characters with secondary characters, who are important to the story.


Self-editing is subjective and it can be tough to throw away all those beautifully written sentences. Have someone give it a read along with feedback then let the book sit for a week or two before going back and making changes. Do this again and again until you’re satisfied with it or sick of it.  Yep, that happens to the best of writers. When you’re done, send it off and hope for the best.  While you’re waiting to hear back from that editor or agent, start your next book and let the creative juices flow!

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