Tips for Self Editing from my Writing Cave

4 min read

There is always that bone-chilling moment where you are about to submit your manuscript to an editor, literary agent, or publisher, and you hit Send. But have you done everything you could to get the manuscript ready?

I’d like to share simple, but effective self-editing hacks I’ve learned throughout the years in self-editing. I usually do this before sending it off to a beta reader or editor, to make it as polished as possible. Please feel free to contribute in the comments if you have any tips for aspiring writers who might read this.

  1. When you are finished with the manuscript, run a thorough spell and grammar check. Many people still do not do this, and it’s amazing what writers can miss.
  2. Through “Find and Replace,” change or get rid of as many Adverbs and Gerunds (-ing endings) as you can. Lessening your manuscript in favor of stronger descriptions makes a huge difference and makes it more readable.
  3. Exclamation points and semicolons. Exclamation points should only appear in a manuscript 1-5 times. Semicolons shouldn’t be more than 18 for a novella, times up for bigger books.
  4. Replace dashes with em-dashes when do the interrupting bit for dialogue. (Change –“/–“/”- to —)
  5. Shave down your filter words through “Find and Replace” in Word, to avoid repetition and either replace them with stronger verbs, or get rid of them all together:

To give you an idea, here are my usual filter words:

  • Actually
  • Probably
  • Though.
  • Really
  • Smile
  • Grin/Laugh
  • Very and every
  • Thing
  • All
  • Was
  • If you write erotic romance, check your naughty/vulgar words as they can sometimes be overused when a stronger verb can be utilized instead. If overlooked, the overuse of vulgar words can be distracting from the love scene.


On editing filter words:

  1. Check want
  2. Check as
  3. Check that
  4. Check so
  5. Check realized
  6. Check you know
  7. Check like
  8. Check I mean
  9. Check need
  10. Check about
  11. Check it
  12. Check just
  13. Check gasped
  14. to see
  15. to hear
  16. to think
  17. to touch
  18. to wonder
  19. to realize
  20. to watch
  21. to look
  22. to seem
  23. to feel (or feel like)
  24. can
  25. to decide
  26. to sound (or sound like)


  1. Search for your time-based adverbs (i.e., when, then, suddenly, immediately, always, often, already, finally). Time-based adverbs such as suddenly, when, immediately, etc. can distract from action sequences or love scenes. Try removing them from the sentence, read the sentence out loud, and see if it works better without it (e.g., Susan immediately bolted out the door, to Susan bolted out the door). Many times simply removing a time-based adverbs can make the action much more effective.
  2. Sex scenes: The best advice I can give for writing sex scenes is one of the oldest; use the Rule of Three – use at least three of the five senses to make the scene three-dimensional. If you have at least sight, taste, smell, etc., it’s a great mechanism for breaking out of writer’s block. Paint the scene for the reader. For open-door love scenes, while you need the physical elements and who put what where present, remember – great dialogue makes for a great sex scene.
  3. The “Find and Replace” feature (sometimes called “Search and Replace”) is an easy way to get rid of bad writing habits that you might not notice when reading straight through your novel.

Here are some things to search for and eliminate from your book:

Began and Started: Find anything with began/begin(-ing,etc) and start/started/starting and replace them with active verbs. This will strengthen the action and engage the reader.

Adverbs: Find words ending in -ly and either replace them with stronger verbs or cut them out entirely. Many editors and publishers consider adverbs “lazy author’s words.” I stick to the one a page rule, where it’s okay to have one -ly ending a page, that way you can be descriptive without it being tedious in your manuscript.

Gerunds: Like adverbs, gerunds (-ing endings) can distract from the action or point you’re trying to convey in a story. Allow yourself 1-2 gerunds a page, or try to replace them with verbs ending in -ed if it’s preceded by was, is, or were.