The Ultimate Self-Editing Checklist: 12 Steps to a Polished Manuscript

Meru Gokhale
24th May 2023

In an interview, E.M. Forster expressed that a novel taking an unexpected direction while being written is "a wonderful thing." He said it happens to everyone, including himself: "[it's] happened to me, I'm afraid." Embracing these unexpected directions enriches the editing process of writing. To make sure your manuscript shines and is ready for publication, attentive care to detail is essential. We have a helpful checklist designed to guide you through this challenging yet rewarding part of writing:

  1. Take a Well-Deserved Break: Before embarking on the editing journey, allow yourself a well-deserved break. Set your manuscript aside for a few days or weeks. This pause will refresh your perspective, enabling you to approach your work with renewed energy and insight. Even Charles Dickens took extended breaks from writing – you deserve it too!

  2. Ensure Consistency: Consistency is the backbone of a compelling manuscript. Learn from Daniel Defoe's experience with Robinson Crusoe, which faced criticism for inconsistencies. Ensure your plot, characters, setting, and timeline remain consistent throughout your book, making it a seamless read for your audience.

  3. Master the Art of Pacing: Captivating readers relies on perfect pacing. Review your manuscript for any sections that may disrupt the flow of your story due to inconsistent pacing. Each scene should serve a purpose and contribute meaningfully to your plot, keeping readers engaged.

  4. Craft Authentic Dialogue: Memorable books often feature authentic dialogue that advances the plot and reveals character traits. Carefully review your work to ensure each character speaks in a distinct voice, adding depth to their personalities.

  5. Elevate Descriptions: Engaging descriptions create an immersive reading experience. Review and enhance your descriptive passages to evoke the senses and establish an emotional connection with your readers.

  6. Breathe Life into Characters: Unforgettable characters are the heart of any story. Review their development, ensuring they possess clear motivations and arcs while showcasing unique backgrounds and personalities.

  7. Seal Plot Holes: Addressing plot holes allows your story to maintain credibility and leaves an impression on readers. Thoroughly review your plot for inconsistencies or gaps in logic, remembering that even literary giants like Stephen King admit to making mistakes.

  8. Perfect Grammar and Spelling: Eliminating grammar and spelling errors ensures a smooth reading experience. Review your manuscript meticulously, using tools like Grammarly or Hemingway to catch errors that might have slipped past your initial editing.

  9. Embrace Feedback: Seeking feedback from others is invaluable. Share your manuscript with trusted friends, writing groups, or editors to gain constructive insights and suggestions for improvement. Fresh perspectives can help you refine your work even further.

  10. Read Aloud for Clarity: Reading your work aloud is an effective technique to catch errors and assess pacing issues. This allows you to hear the natural flow of sentences and dialogue, ensuring a smooth reading experience for your audience.

  11. Adhere to Formatting Guidelines: Ensure your manuscript follows the appropriate formatting guidelines, including margins, spacing, and font. Familiarize yourself with the submission requirements of agents and publishers you may be targeting.

  12. Proofread with Confidence: Before submitting your manuscript, conduct one final proofread with confidence. Double-check for errors, ensuring your manuscript is polished and ready to be shared with the world.

By following this ultimate editing checklist, you're on the path to creating a polished and captivating book you can be proud of. Best of luck in your editing journey – remember that you are doing fantastic work!