How to Be Your Own Editor: 5 Common Mistakes to Fix

How to Be Your Own Editor: 5 Common Mistakes to Fix, guest post by Farzana Doctor

Here are some common problems I see new writers make. When editing my own work, I use the following checklist:

1.  Overused words
        Examples: very, only, just, always, never, already, every, often, almost, got, feel, seem, started to, began to, tried to.
        We need to use these words sometimes. Double-check if they are necessary, or cluttering up your page.
        Here’s a link to a more comprehensive list:

2. Repetitive words
        Repetitive words within the same page, when not used intentionally, can be annoying for a reader.
        Read aloud to catch your repetitive words.
        If you have a hunch you’ve used a unique word too many times (and we do this unconsciously, certain words becoming mind-worms), do a document search.
        Example: while editing my last novel, I wondered if I’d used the word “extraneous” too often. In a search, it came up 12 times. I reviewed each use and assessed whether a synonym might be appropriate. 

3.  Telling vs. Showing
        We need both of these narrative strategies, but look for places where you could show more and tell less.
        Ask yourself: do I get “dulled out” while reading? Do I feel like skipping ahead?
        An example of telling:
        Farzana gets nervous while teaching.
        A (silly) example of showing:
        “Okay, give me an example of, um, showing?” Farzana took a sip of coffee, then coughed, sputtering it onto her laptop. She scanned the room, wondering why that guy in the back was smirking at her.

4. Over-writing
        Most early drafts require cuts.
        Ask yourself:
        have I said the same thing twice?
        would ½ the description be more powerful?
        have I shown and told (unnecessarily) within the same passage?
        As above, look for places where you feel bored by your own writing.

5. Not getting feedback
        When I was a new writer, I didn’t show my work to others. I was nervous to expose myself to criticism.
        Now, I see feedback as a gift. My early readers find the mistakes I don’t. They offer solutions that make the work stronger.
        Learn the art of receiving feedback.
        Find other writers, or avid readers, and ask for feedback. Urge them to be honest, and remind them that they won’t hurt your feelings. Ask them to comment on your prose, characters, settings, plot etc.
        Thank them for their feedback. Do not get defensive. Listen and take notes. Ask clarifying questions only.
        Take a few days to process their ideas. You may decide to follow all or only some of their advice. Sometimes I find that feedback inspires brand new ideas.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment on this checklist. I love feedback!

Farzana Doctor is the author of three novels: Stealing Nasreen, Six Metres of Pavement (which was a 2012 Lambda Literary Award and the 2017 One Book One Brampton winner) and the recently released All Inclusive which was a Kobo and National Post Best Book of the Year. Farzana was named one of CBC Books’ “Ten Canadian Women Writers You Need to Read Now”. She is also a Registered Social Worker with a part-time psychotherapy practice. She curates the Brockton Writers Series.

Twitter: @farzanadoctor
Instagram: @farzanadoctor

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How to Be Your Own Editor: 5 Common Mistakes to Fix, guest post by Farzana Doctor



  1. congrats on the tour and thanks for the chance to win :)

  2. Thanks for hosting me! I'll check in today and tonight to answer any questions your readers might have!

  3. Hoping to soak up the current info in best practices!

  4. Happy Monday! Thanks for sharing the great post, I enjoyed reading it :)

  5. I love reading the check list! Congrats on the tour and thanks for the chance to win!

  6. I really enjoyed reading the guest post, thank you!

  7. Hope you had a great weekend and congrats again!


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