Self-Editing Tips and Tricks: Nonfiction, Poetry, Fiction and More!

Hello in medias res readers!

With our submissions open for our Fall issue, “Home,” we wanted to make sure our writers and contributors were in top shape for submissions. We know how hard it can be to self-edit your own writing, so we thought we would share a few of our favourite tips for you. These can be used to prepare your works for “Home,” indulge in a little creative writing on the side or even add a little flair to your academic work. No matter what you use them for, we hope these editing tips help you feel more confident in working with your own writing!

First, we would love to share some general editing tips with you.

1. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. It can be hard sometimes to leave your work alone, but there is such a thing as over-editing! Make sure your original intent shines through.
2. Remember the audience and purpose of your piece. Who are you writing for? Who are you writing to? Who will be reading your work? Why do you want people to read your work? Keep these things in mind can help you make sure that your writing is in its best shape to be received by a particular audience.
3. Read it out loud. This can help you spot issues including flow, organization, dialogue, punctuation, grammar, line breaks, etc.!

4. The first lines set the tone. This is true of all genres! The first lines of the work pull the reader in, so it’s important that there is a “hook” of some sort to keep the reader reading.

Thinking of getting into creative nonfiction? Don’t worry, we have tips for that too.

1. Focus on creating a narrative. Creative nonfiction should have a narrative arc and act similarly to a fiction structure. Make sure that the piece is constantly moving forward! This will help your writing be more dynamic.
2. Focus on details. The details and description in nonfiction can often help bring out the personality of the work! Nonfiction is ‘any true story told well’—make sure those storytelling elements are there as you tell us about a real event.

3. Focus on creating a strong voice. The voice in nonfiction is particularly important, as creative nonfiction is often infused with personality — this is what moves the piece from ‘nonfiction’ to ‘creative nonfiction’!

If creative nonfiction isn’t your cup of tea, we also have some tips for editing poetry.

1. Examine line breaks. Take away the line breaks. Add line breaks. What differences does it make? Consider whether these exist just for the sake of existing, or how they are contributing to the overall work!
2. Consider word choice. As every word in a poem is important, you’ll want to take a closer look at them. The long, impressive word is not always better than the short, subtle word”!

3. Consider consistency in literary devices. Make sure things like metaphors and imagery make sense. Further, make sure they are consistent across the piece — the tone between different applications of literary devices can drastically change the tone. For example, a poem using soft, flower imagery may not benefit from a metaphor in the middle about metal skyscrapers (though, perhaps it does! — this is up to you to decide). 

Lastly, we have some tricks for self-editing when it comes to fiction.

1. Focus on the five elements of a short story. Character, setting, plot, conflict, and theme are all things you should be able to identify! Further, you want to make sure these all connect to each other in a logical way and are consistent across the story. These elements are essential to a good piece of fiction.
2. Consider dialogue. Look at the characterization — are the things people say consistent and in character across the story? Are there places where dialogue is too heavy? Places where more could be used? Using your characters’ voices can help bolster your piece in so many ways!

3. Consider the pacing of the work. Does all of the exposition happen at the beginning? Is the dialogue spaced out, or does it all occur in one section? Do you spend too long on certain descriptions, or not long enough? These are all questions to consider so that you can keep the reader continuously interested!

Though we’ve kept this short and sweet, there are many other tricks you can use in your own writing. However, the biggest tip we have is simply to practice—getting better at writing is a process that can’t always be “hacked” with a list, and sometimes the best way to improve is to just write and write again.

We hope these tips help you out in your own writing processes and encourage you to apply them to concepts of “Home” as well. We hope to see your work soon!