Self-Editing Tips to Take Your Manuscript from Flabby to Fit for Publication

As writers, we hear it all the time.

We need to “write tight” — which just means we need to trim all the flab from our manuscripts and make every word count.

How to Write Tight

Here are some self-editing tips that will help you “write tight” and take your manuscripts from flabby to fit for publication in no time!

1. Avoid a Lot of Back Story

Back story is information about the POV character’s history and background.

Weave all this into the story instead of loading the manusript down with too many sentences or paragraphs of straight narrative before the action begins.

2. Simplify Your Sentences

Watch for redundant or unnecessary phrases.

You need to “show, not tell” as often as possible.

Yet some writers tend to show and then tell the same information.

There’s no need for this.

Also, look for the redundant phrases, below — and others like them — and remove the unneeded words.

Stand up = stand
 Sit down = sit
 Turned back = turned
 Turned around = turned
 He thought to himself = He thought.
 She shrugged her shoulders = she shrugged
 She whispered softly = she whispered
 He nodded his head = he nodded

3. Avoid Adverbs

Use strong, descriptive verbs instead.

Flabby: She smiled sweetly at the photographer.

Fit: She grinned at the photographer.

4. Avoid Using the Same Word Over and Over in a Paragraph

Go back and reread each sentence.

Have you repeated the same word several times within a single sentence or paragraph?

If so, substitute another word with the same meaning.

5. Don’t Overuse Names

Beginning writers tend to have the characters address each other by name too often.

When you speak to a friend, you don’t constantly say his name.

Don’t have your characters do this either.

It doesn’t ring true, and it draws the reader out of the story.

6. Limit the Description in a Dialogue Tag

Beginning writers tend to load down the dialogue tags (the “he said, she said,” part of the dialogue) with too many details.

If you must describe what a character is doing as he says something, put that information in a separate sentence, not in the dialogue tag.

And keep it short.

7. Avoid Participle Phrases — particularly at the beginning of sentences.

Participle phrases include words that end in the letters -ing.

Example: Sitting by the fire, Mary darned her husband’s sock.

Go back over every page of your manuscript and circle the places where you’ve started a sentence with a participle phrase.

A participle phrase is okay every now and then.

But if your manuscript is loaded down with participle phrases, it tends to distract the reader and pull him out of the story.

8. No Idle Chit-Chat

Be sure the dialogue advances the storyline.

Readers don’t need to hear the characters talking about anything that doesn’t somehow relate directly to what’s happened so far or what will happen next or later in the story.

9. Minimize Use of the Passive Voice

Here’s an example of passive voice: The ball was hit by Susan.

Here’s the same information in active voice: Susan hit the ball.

10. Use Strong, Active, Descriptive Verbs

Flabby: I was the one who made the decision to go home.

Fit: I decided to go home.

You can usually eliminate was and were by replacing them with stronger, more descriptive verbs.

Usually, was and were precede an -ing word, and you can change the -ing word to make it stronger.

For instance, instead of: He was talking to my brother, write: He talked to my brother.

11. Minimize Use of the Verb “to Be”

Flabby: She is a graceful dancer.

Fit: She dances gracefully.

12. Cut the Verb Preceding an Infinitive if it’s Not Needed

Flabby: She was able to fix the bicycle.

Fit: She fixed the bicycle.

13. Eliminate the Word That When You Don’t Need It

Reread each sentence that includes that, then read the sentence without that.

If it sounds all right without it, cut it.

Also, avoid other crutch words we tend to rely on yet don’t add much to the story.

Other crutch words include just and really.

Suddenly should be used as infrequently as possible.

Otherwise, it tends to sound as if your characters are constantly jumping around.

14. Watch for Pet Words or Phrases You Tend to Favor Without Realizing It

Common words like then, as, and when tend to get overused often.

15. Avoid Stall Phrases That Slow Down the Action for No Good Reason

Phrases such as: tried to, began to and started to can be changed to the simple past tense of the verb.

Keep This List

Keep this list of self-editing tips handy for awhile until they become automatic as you’re writing and rewriting.

Your manuscripts will go from flabby to fit for publication in no time!

Try it!

The Working Writer’s Coach

P.S. For more writing tips delivered to your e-mailbox every weekday morning, get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge now at

Tweet This Post

If you’re new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

Originally published at on March 3, 2016.

Like what you read? Give Suzanne Lieurance a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.