Can AI writing help with the emotional demands of fiction editing?

Life is full of challenges; can AI writing like ChatGPT help me with any of them?

AI-generated text has been around for a while and there’s no stopping it. Out of curiosity, I’ve done some experimenting with AI – in particular GPT-3 (third generation Generative Pre-trained Transformer), a large language model developed by OpenAI. It’s trained on a vast amount of data from the internet and can then generate text in response to an input, such as asking a question.

And it just got a whole lot smarter. ChatGPT has a user-friendly interface and uses GPT-3.5, meaning its mistakes are much less obvious than with GPT-3. Spurred on by a community I’m part of (RISE by Mark Schaefer), I wondered to what extent the limitations of GPT-3 still applied, and whether there were practical and ethical ways ChatGPT could help me work faster and smarter.

ChatGPT comes with the following intro screen:

Limitations: "May occasionally generate incorrect information. May occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content. Limited knowledge of world and events after 2021."
  1. Reducing harmful bias in fiction
  2. Malnourished kids in my village
  3. Sample fictional text to demonstrate editing

Challenge 1: Reducing harmful bias in fiction

Last week I had a tough task to do, but it was important and I was determined to do it well. I was judging a sample chapter in a fiction competition and providing feedback.

The problem was, there were harmful racial stereotypes at the center of the plot. It’s hard to word feedback like that when you don’t know the author or their intentions (this wasn’t one of my direct clients), and I knew the potential for my feedback to go down badly with the author was high. I had to word it carefully.

I’m sometimes tempted to put off tasks that I know will be emotionally demanding. What if I’d asked AI for help to get me started sooner? I didn’t, but would it have said anything useful? Here’s what I asked ChatGPT.

Joanne: How do I write supportive and encouraging feedback to an author who has used a racist premise in their novel. Explain why it’s a problem without making them defensive.

ChatGPT: If you are providing feedback to an author who has used a racist premise in their novel, it is important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Start by expressing your appreciation for the author’s work and the effort they put into writing their novel. Then, explain why the racist premise is a problem, using specific examples from the novel to illustrate your point. Avoid using accusatory language or placing blame on the author, and instead focus on the impact of the racist premise on the characters and the story.

It can also be helpful to provide suggestions for how the author could address the issue and make their novel more inclusive and fair. For example, you could suggest that the author consider adding more diverse characters, or incorporating more nuanced and realistic portrayals of the characters who are affected by the racist premise. Additionally, you could offer to provide further resources or advice on how to avoid bias and promote inclusivity in their writing. 🤖


I thought that wasn’t too bad! Empathy and understanding are key, and I did give positive feedback about aspects of their writing that worked really well. It reminds me that I do have the skills to tackle this challenge. Would I go a step further and ask AI to write the feedback for me? No, that wouldn’t be fair to the author, and it would have been generic, rather than specific to their text like the feedback I wrote last week.

I’ve experienced the limitations of GPT language models and the inherent bias in AI due to training data, so I asked about this in relation to fiction next. Would it be able to produce something that could help authors avoid harmful bias in their writing in the first place?

Joanne: What are common examples of bias in fiction writing?

ChatGPT: In fiction writing, bias can refer to a number of different things. For example, it can refer to the inclusion of stereotypes or one-dimensional characters that reinforce harmful beliefs about certain groups of people. It can also refer to a narrative that is slanted in favor of one particular point of view, or that presents a distorted or incomplete picture of events. Additionally, bias in fiction can manifest in the ways that different characters are portrayed, with some characters receiving more positive or sympathetic treatment than others. 🤖

Joanne: How can I avoid bias in my fiction writing?

ChatGPT: One way to avoid bias in your fiction writing is to be aware of your own biases and make a conscious effort to challenge them. This can involve doing research and seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences, both in your reading and in your everyday life. It can also involve actively seeking out and incorporating feedback from people with different backgrounds and experiences than your own.

Another way to avoid bias in your writing is to be mindful of the language and descriptions you use. Avoid using stereotypes and generalizations, and strive to create well-rounded, complex characters that reflect the diversity of the world around us.

Additionally, consider the implications of your plot and storyline. Be aware of how your story may reinforce or challenge societal norms and beliefs, and consider if there are alternative perspectives or experiences that could be included.

Overall, the key to avoiding bias in your writing is to be open-minded, self-aware, and willing to engage with diverse perspectives. By actively working to challenge your own biases and incorporate diverse voices and experiences, you can create stories that are more inclusive and reflective of the world we live in. 🤖


Well, it’s a bit generic but it’s not a bad starting point, and you could ask further questions to develop points you wanted to explore. Thinking about this makes me want to add Chrystal Shelley’s Conscious Language Toolkit to my wishlist because I know its informed by her lived experience as a human. (There are separate versions of the Conscious Language Toolkit for writers and editors on Chrystal’s website – not an affiliate link.)

Challenge 2: Solving world hunger

Another thing that’s been emotionally demanding for me recently is the food crisis in Sri Lanka. It affects our village, food stability is terrible, and I feel helpless about what I can do for others. What is wrong with the world that children are hungry? So I asked ChatGPT about that too.

Joanne: Brainstorm different ways I can help with the problem of malnourished children in my village in Southeast Asia.

ChatGPT: There are many different ways you can help with the problem of malnourished children in your village in Southeast Asia. Some potential ideas include:

  • Raising awareness about the issue of malnutrition in your village, and sharing information about its causes and effects with others.
  • Volunteering with organizations that work to provide nutritious meals and other support to malnourished children in your area.
  • Donating funds or other resources to support organizations that are working to combat malnutrition in your village.
  • Starting a fundraising campaign to raise money for malnutrition prevention and treatment programs in your village.
  • Working with local farmers to help them grow and sell nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
  • Partnering with local schools or community centers to provide nutrition education and promote healthy eating habits among children and families in your village.
  • Supporting efforts to improve access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities in your village, which can help prevent malnutrition and other health problems.

By taking action to address the issue of malnutrition in your village, you can help ensure that children have the nourishment they need to grow and thrive. 🤖

Joanne: How can I start a social media campaign to help malnourished children in my village?

ChatGPT: To start a social media campaign to help malnourished children in your village, you could follow these steps:

Identify the goal of your campaign and create a message that clearly conveys this goal to your audience. This could be something like “Help us raise funds to provide nutritious meals to malnourished children in our village.”

Choose a social media platform (or multiple platforms) that are popular with your target audience. This could be platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Create social media accounts for your campaign, if you don’t already have them, and start posting about your campaign. Be sure to include your campaign message, photos or videos of the children you are helping, and information about how people can donate or get involved.

Engage with your audience by responding to comments, thanking donors, and sharing updates about the impact of your campaign. You could also consider using hashtags to make it easier for people to find your posts and share them with others.

Promote your campaign by sharing it with your personal network and reaching out to local organizations or influencers who might be interested in supporting your cause. You could also consider running paid advertisements to reach a wider audience.

Monitor the success of your campaign and adjust your strategy as needed. Keep track of how many donations you receive, how much money you raise, and the impact that your campaign has on the children in your village.

By following these steps, you can create a successful social media campaign to help malnourished children in your village. It’s important to remember to be persistent, engaging, and transparent in order to build trust and support for your campaign. 🤖

Well, I feel slightly less powerless already. I have no real idea whether this is good social media advice or not, but let’s assume it sounds OK. What should I spend the money on?

Joanne: What are the best foods to give malnourished children in Sri Lanka?

ChatGPT: Malnutrition can have many causes, and the best foods to give to malnourished children will depend on their specific nutritional needs. In general, however, malnourished children may benefit from foods that are high in calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals. These could include foods like:

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and other sources of protein

Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt

Fruits and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins and minerals

Whole grains, such as oats, barley, and quinoa

Fortified foods, like fortified bread or cereal, which have added nutrients

It’s also important to provide children with clean, safe drinking water to help prevent dehydration. In some cases, malnourished children may also benefit from taking nutritional supplements, such as vitamin and mineral tablets or fortified foods like peanut butter or vegetable oil. 🤖


This reads as biased to me and sounds like a Westernized list. Some of these foods are unavailable here, even under normal circumstances. Now the good thing was, I could provide feedback on this, to help with training the AI in the future. I tried to get something more suitable for our context. Here’s how it did.

Joanne: What are great sources of protein for children that are part of a Southeast Asian diet?

ChatGTP: Protein is an important nutrient for children, as it helps their bodies grow and develop. In Southeast Asia, there are many sources of protein that are commonly included in the diet. These include:

Fish and seafood, such as shrimp, squid, and fish

Meat, such as chicken, pork, and beef


Nuts and seeds, such as peanuts, almonds, and sesame seeds

Legumes, such as lentils, peas, and beans

Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt

In addition to these protein-rich foods, many Southeast Asian diets also include plant-based proteins like tofu and tempeh. These foods can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as grilled, fried, or in soups and stews. It’s important to offer children a variety of protein-rich foods to help ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need. 🤖


Much better. I’ve been planting beans in the garden this morning (no snakes today, but ask me about the leeches!). And I thought of a way I could use AI writing to save me time.

Challenge 3: Writing example fiction to demonstrate editing

Writing fictitious scenes to demonstrate an editing point is time consuming. I write them myself because I don’t use example client work for this, even with consent from the author. I don’t want to point out people’s “mistakes” online for others to see. Could ChatGPT write some scenes for me?

Joanne: Write a fictional scene about meeting a witch in a forest.

ChatGPT: As I stepped into the forest, the sunlight filtering through the trees was suddenly blotted out by a thick fog that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. I shivered, feeling a strange sense of foreboding.

I heard a rustling in the bushes ahead of me, and a figure emerged from the mist. It was an old woman, dressed in tattered robes of black and green. Her face was wrinkled and wizened, with a hooked nose and sharp, piercing eyes.

“Who are you?” I asked, my voice trembling. “What do you want?”

The old woman cackled, her voice raspy and harsh. “I am a witch, child,” she said. “And I have come to grant you a gift.”

I stared at her in disbelief. “A gift? What kind of gift?”

The witch chuckled. “The gift of magic, child. The power to bend the world to your will. But be warned – with great power comes great danger. Are you willing to accept the risk?”

I hesitated, unsure of what to do. The thought of wielding magic was tempting, but the old woman’s words filled me with fear.

“I don’t know,” I said slowly. “I’m not sure I want to be a witch.”

The old woman’s eyes narrowed. “Then you are not worthy of my gift,” she said. “Farewell, child. May your life be dull and uneventful.”

With that, she turned and disappeared into the fog, leaving me alone in the forest once again. I stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do, before turning and running back the way I had come. 🤖


That’s something I could analyze and give example feedback on. Looks like AI and humans make different types of writing mistakes though! AI seems to be pretty good at laying out dialogue and including sensory information in scenes, and it doesn’t make typos in the same way that we do. Humans on the other hand have a better grasp of stakes, motivation, and continuity, usually.

I can imagine using AI-generated paragraphs as example fictitious text to demonstrate editing on my website, but I might need to edit in specific mistakes or issues. It would probably be quicker than writing from scratch though, and it would get me over the initial reluctance of getting started. I like that I can provide feedback on the output in ChatGPT too.

To what extent do the limitations of GPT-3 still apply? Rebecca Heilweil described ChatGPT as a confident bullshitter (Vox article), which I thought was an excellent way of putting its tendency to hallucinate. When it makes mistakes, they’re harder to pick up because they sound reasonable enough to be right. For example, ChatGPT told me that Perseus used his shield to hide his face from Medusa to keep his identity a secret. It sounds plausible but it’s completely wrong. (He was using the reflection to avoid looking at her and getting turned to stone.) The thing is, some humans are confident bullshitters too, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

AI writing is already here. There’s no putting it back in the box, but we can explore its limitations, provide it with feedback, and think of ethical uses. I found it helpful to poke my own thinking in different directions.

What do you think? Do you use AI in your writing?

And something I want to know more about is who are all the “human labelers” tagging the training data …

Is professional editing & proofreading training worth it, or can you learn for free?

What’s the point of professional editing and proofreading training if you can learn almost anything for free online? Does it matter if your editor has qualifications or is a member of a professional organization? I’ll share my training journey with you and some of my favourite free and paid training resources.

Skip to the resources! (Don’t you hate it when recipe blogs don’t let you do that?)

Looking everything up

Back in 2019 when a friend asked me to help with proofreading and editing for their science lab, I had no relevant qualifications beyond teaching. They didn’t mind; English is my first language and they wanted me to check for their nemeses – the dreaded articles a and the.

Probably every school report I ever had said conscientious on it (well, maybe not French or that one Chemistry teacher). So I looked EVERYTHING up. Should that be a hyphen or a dash? Does that sentence need a comma? Gγ-type-dependent-thingummy-what-now? And this was before we even had internet in the house!

BitmoJo thinking about editing and proofreading.

Starting out

I started editing and proofreading before I was qualified, but for friends and clients who really didn’t mind. I studied hard, scouring the internet for high-quality free resources, and only took on projects I knew I could do well. But over time, I felt this wasn’t enough to progress in the direction I wanted. I had great feedback from clients, which encouraged me to level up. In another post I talk about starting my own business.

Joining the CIEP

I decided to join the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP). Erring on the side of caution and starting with the level 2 copyediting course seemed sensible, but I just couldn’t afford it – I’d been doing budget jobs, and everything is a lot in Sri Lankan Rupees. I had to invest in the course I knew I’d get the most out of.

I took a gamble and started Copyediting 3, knowing it would take me longer than the estimated 35 hours! But I felt like a complete fraud attempting to punch above my weight. Was it a challenging course? Yes. Did I have a confidence wobble and nearly quit? Also yes.

Joanne studying for her editorial assignments.

Benefits of professional training

Professional training helps build trust with my clients. It indicates to clients that I’m serious about doing a professional job. I feel more confident in my own skills and learned new ones. And as an added bonus, colleagues are more likely to refer work to people whose skills they trust.

Joining a professional organization has already been worth it for me. Here’s what I love about the CIEP:

📗 Course tutors give excellent, detailed feedback. I had a fantastic tutor, and getting their professional opinion and advice on my work was brilliant!
📗 Assessments cover a wide range of areas so you can identify your strengths and weaknesses. Misplaced modifiers, I’m looking for you …
📗 Monthly virtual meetings with other editors in my half of the world.
📗 A wealth of online resources from forums to factsheets.
When I found out I passed my copyediting course, I was so relieved and grateful to my course tutor for their expert feedback! It took me a while to feel courageous enough to post about it on LinkedIn, but that’s where some of the content in this blog post is from. You can see my original LinkedIn post here.

Learn for free

I struggled to find decent free training, but my favourite grammar refresher was 100% Khan Academy Grammar. User-friendly explanations with multiple-choice questions.

Scribber has a wealth of resources in the Scribber Knowledge Base and only some is specific to academic writing. If you like taking notes and underlining things in different colours, like me, check it out.

Here’s one of the best and most readable guides I’ve read about commas from the UNC Writing Center. World History Encyclopedia recommends it to all their volunteer writers, so it must be good!

If you’re getting started in editing, definitely check out the early seasons of The Editing Podcast.

You can find my favourite free editing tools in my previous blog post.

You can learn a lot from reading the blogs of experienced editors you admire – I know I do! There are too many to mention, but I’d love to hear your favourites.

Professional training

I’ve done a lot of on-the-job learning with World History Encyclopedia and Ink & Insights, but the paid courses I invested in were really worth it for me and my business. There are other professional bodies around the world that I’ve heard good things about, but I can only recommend what I’ve tried. Here are my top three:

Louise Harnby, Switching to Fiction, focusing on line editing. Delightful.

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. Members receive a discount on CIEP courses.

Tiffany Yates Martin’s range of Fox Print Editorial courses are aimed at writers but excellent for newer editors or editors venturing into developmental editing.

What do you think?

So there you go! There are lots of different pathways into editing and proofreading as a career, and not all of them involve a master’s degree in English literature and creative writing. You can play to your strengths.

Joanne with a question mark above her head.

Indispensable tools for editing your novel.

Editors are really good at looking things up, and you can be too. Here are some of my favourite editing resources. Many are free and others might be a worthwhile investment for your writing if you’re on a budget, plan to write multiple books, or want to learn editing yourself. Thorough self-editing will always make your editor’s job a bit quicker, which will save you money.

There are no affiliate links in this post; I’m just sharing resources that I use and think might be helpful to others.

Microsoft Word



Merriam-Webster online dictionary

The Chicago Manual of Style

New Hart’s Rules

Natural Reader Text to Speech

Other websites

Other books


Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is the professional standard in editing land. You can write your novel in something else if you prefer, and then convert it before sending it to your editor. Editors use Word because it’s easy to add comments, keep a note of adjustments with Track Changes, and all our favourite tools work with it. I use Microsoft 365 so I’m always up to date.

A screenshot of Tracked Changes and editorial comments in Microsoft Word.
Tracked Changes and comments (in Dark Mode)


One of the greatest tools that works from within Word is PerfectIt. It’s fantastic for checking consistency, and great for clean-up tasks like removing extra spaces or line breaks. When I edited a 180,000-word novel (!), PerfectIt picked up an inconsistency in hyphenation that I’d missed because the instances were about 48 chapters apart and both were correct! That’s worth it for me. It also integrates the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS – see below), a very exciting development in editing land. You can find out more about the very reasonably priced PerfectIt on their website.


Grammarly is not perfect but it’s better than spellcheck and flags more potential issues. I also find it’s better at supporting multiple Englishes – you can switch between UK, US, Canadian, and Australian English. It works from within Word so I don’t put client work online to do any of my final checks.

Grammarly is very comma-happy, if there’s an opportunity for an optional comma, it will order you to add one! Yes, it does miss things, but it gives me extra piece of mind when I run it as a final check after I’ve finished copyediting or proofreading. I also love the tone of voice detector when I’m writing client emails. You could try the free version – just don’t click “accept all”!

Grammarly in action within Microsoft Word during self-editing.



Merriam-Webster is my go-to dictionary for American and British spelling and usage. Dictionaries are invaluable for spelling variations, capitalization, and hyphenation. I used to use Lexico for UK English, which is now, but I can’t recommend it because it’s full of intrusive ads.

Style Guides

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

The Chicago Manual of Style Online is a great resource for style, usage, and grammar for fiction and non-fiction, and it’s not as expensive as I expected. The online version is so easy to navigate, and the search always turns up exactly what I need. There’s the Shop Talk blog and quizzes too! You could try their free trial.

New Hart’s Rules

This is a style handbook for writers and editors by Oxford University Press. Honestly, I don’t like it that much, sorry UK! But I do need it for my continued professional development with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) as it’s their go-to British English style guide. It’s just not as comprehensive or user-friendly as CMOS.

The Chicago Manual of Style banner

Online tools

Natural Reader Text to Speech

I have two free favourites for text-to-speech readers. The one in Word is OK, and Natural Reader is even better. I use the free voices in the Chrome browser extension, but there are other formats available. This saves my eyes when I’m doing a lot of research and I find it helpful when editing my own writing. It’s notoriously difficult to spot errors in your own work, here are my top proofreading tips, so any marginal gains help!

When there’s more than one acceptable way of doing something (like zero tolerance approach and zero-tolerance approach) Ludwig is your friend. It will show you how reputable sources like The Guardian and The New York Times do things. I use the free version because I only use it occasionally, but it’s amazingly useful when I do need it!

Capitalize My Title

Here’s a bonus online tool you might not have heard of that can come in handy for capitalizing your titles and chapter headings if you use them. It handles multiple styles, including Chicago and AP (Associated Press), and it helps ensure consistency. Popular with writers of non-fiction.

Capital My Title screenshot for editing chapter headings consistently.


There are too many amazing writing and editing websites to mention so I thought back to what I found most helpful when I was starting out.

The Editor’s Blog by Beth Hill. When I discovered Beth’s post on Numbers in Fiction I was sure it was the best thing ever written on the internet ever. I may have gained a little perspective since then, but not much!

The Editor’s Manual is comprehensive, easy to use, and stunning to look at. In their own words, it’s “a free resource on grammar, usage, style, and punctuation for editors, writers, and learners of the English language.” Enough said!

Conscious Style Guide is a great free online resource and I love their conscious language newsletter to keep up to date with conversations that affect inclusion, empowerment, and respect in fiction writing and beyond.

Screenshot of Conscious Style Guide homepage


Yes, books cost money but often contain so much value; maybe your library can get hold of some for you. I’ve read a lot of language guides but only a few made a lasting impression so I’m keeping my list intentionally short.

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker. Perfect if you’re fighting to overcome a tendency toward stuffy academic writing! I expect I loved it so much due to Steven’s scientific approach.

Editing Fiction at Sentence Level by Louise Harnby. I read this as part of Louise’s course Switching to Fiction but it’s also available on Amazon. The content was exactly what I needed at the time, giving me the vocabulary to articulate issues efficiently to fiction clients. Full of illustrative examples and suggested solutions. Louise has loads of free writing and editing resources on her website.

BitmoJo carrying a pile of books.

Currently on my wish list:

Intuitive Editing: A Creative and Practical Guide to Revising Your Writing by Tiffany Yates Martin. I really identify with Tiffany’s approach to editing, only she has a few decades of publishing industry experience on me!

The Little Book of Confusables: Simple Spelling and Usage Tips to Help Smart People Avoid Stupid Mistakes by Sarah Townsend. I’ve seen the interior design and it’s gorgeous! I know Sarah’s writing is witty and entertaining, so it’ll be worth the wait to get a paper copy over to Sri Lanka. [Update: ✅ This is a handy little guide with some amusing reminders.]

Ooh, I also want the new edition of Reading the World: How I Read a Book from Every Country by Ann Morgan because it makes me want to read a myth from every country!

BitmoJo with a question mark on her head.

What are your indispensable writing or editing books and resources?

How to get your book edited when you can’t afford an editor.

Does professional editing sound like a significant investment you’re not sure you’re ready for? Professional editing is expensive because it takes time and skill, but there are other options you can consider. Use these tips to make the most of your professional editing budget and bring overall costs down. The good news is that you can learn some editorial skills yourself if you have the time and determination.

What’s involved:

  1. Sort out your story’s big picture
  2. Sentence-level editing
  3. Get feedback from beta readers
  4. Check the copyediting details
  5. Proofreading for quality control
  6. Spellcheck and AI grammar editors

Sort out your story’s big picture

BitmoJo studying story structure at a desk.

You don’t want to hand over your first draft to an editor if you’re on a budget! Learn to rewrite and self-edit as best you can until you’re happy with your story’s structure. You can find lots of advice online regarding self-editing and the basics of developmental editing. I wrote a post about self-editing your first draft a little while ago.

I’d recommend identifying the core of your story: what is it about at its heart? How would you summarize your book in a sentence or two? When you reread your work, you can check that’s what’s coming through on the page, and that your story delivers what you intended.

Story-level considerations to get you started:

  • Do readers have a reason to care about your characters?
  • Are the stakes, plot, and pace compelling?
  • Does every scene have a purpose?
  • How is your balance of show and tell?
  • Is there a balance of narrative and dialogue?
  • Are actions, transitions, descriptions, and backstory clear and integrated?
  • Is your setting or world rich and believable?
  • Is wordcount about right for your target audience and genre?

When you’re happy with your overall story, your characters will be captivating and challenged and developed by your plot. If you’re unsure, you can get feedback from some test readers who don’t mind reading drafts (alpha readers). You might have a friend, colleague, or family member who’ll be honest with you about what does and doesn’t work for them as a reader.

Sentence-level editing

BitmoJo ticking things off her self-editing to-do list.

When story-level issues are taken care of, it’s time for sentence-level work. But take a break before you go through your manuscript again so you can view it slightly more objectively. Research line-editing for ideas; I’ve written about the different types of editing on the blog.

Line-editing considerations to get you started:

  • Repetition of certain phrases. We all have writing habits and tics. Can you spot yours?
  • Will everything make sense to readers who are unfamiliar with your story?
  • Are there any filter words (such as thought and watched) or adverbs (such as suddenly and unexpectedly) that you don’t really want?
  • Is it always clear who’s speaking and what they are doing while speaking?
  • Does point of view accidentally slip to other characters?
  • Are transitions in and out of flashbacks clear?
  • Recheck your balance of showing and telling, and narrative and dialogue.
  • Are your character names pronounceable and distinct from each other?

Get feedback from beta readers

Maybe you are part of a writing group, have a critique partner, or can find some helpful beta readers to provide feedback. If you are not used to receiving feedback, don’t worry if it stings at first. This is our hardwired reaction to what feels like social judgement, and it does get easier!

Not all feedback will be useful to you, and requesting specific feedback on particular things can be helpful. Decide which comments work for you and apply them to your book. Repeat often.

Check the copyediting details

BitmoJo with a book on a laptop.

When you think your story’s written, it’s time to check the details, such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The free version of Grammarly is a good place to start as it usually picks up more errors than your standard spellcheck. But be wary as some of the suggestions are plain silly, and other errors will be missed. Read carefully yourself, too, and become an expert at looking things up!

Copyediting considerations to get you started:

  • Commonly confused words (such as affect and effect)
  • Words that sound the same but are spelled differently (homonyms)
  • Apostrophes for possession and contraction
  • Commas and semicolons
  • Hyphens and dashes
  • Punctuating dialogue
  • Paragraph styles
  • Chapter numbers

Proofreading for quality control

BitmoJo using a magnifying glass to look for proofreading errors.

Proofreading is a final quality control check for errors that might have been missed during copyediting. It isn’t easy to proofread your own work, and I’ve written about improving accuracy when proofreading your own work. Enlist whoever you can to help you at least look for typos or other errors that you’re too close to your own work to see.

There are cheap proofreading and editing services around, and you might be lucky enough to find quality work from someone new to the profession or just starting out on a particular online platform. However, this option may take a lot of time and luck and could be a stressful gamble.

Spellcheck and AI grammar editors

AI editing and spellcheckers are great tools, but don’t just accept all their suggestions as you will introduce errors into your work. They can be quite helpful for sentence-level issues, but they do miss things, or make suggestions that aren’t correct or appropriate for your work. This post on Kindlepreneur compares AI proofreading tools such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid. Remember in fiction we can creatively bend the rules, especially in dialogue.

Summing up

If you want a comprehensive edit without spending money, you might be better learning to do it yourself (although professional editing training costs money) or trading within a trusted writing and critique group. You could follow some editors on social media, if that’s your kind of thing, to see what tips they give.

Some editors offer a mini-edit of your first few chapters, see my services for example mini-edit options, and you could then apply the feedback to the rest of your book.

I hope that gives you some ideas for editing on a budget.

BitmoJo with a question mark on her head.

Are there any items on the lists above you’d like to know more about? Let me know in the comments, or via email at, so I can write about it next time!

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Finding the courage to start your own business by focusing on who you know you can help: a fiction editor’s story.

Everyone has a voice worth hearing. This is something I believe in – stories belong to all of us – but it took me a long time to include myself as a part of ‘everyone’. Starting my own editing business helped me find my voice because I love helping writers share theirs.

I could never do that!

When my brother started his own business as a wedding photographer years ago, I thought, Wow, I would never be brave enough to do that! But time went by and I eventually decided that for once in my life, I was going to throw myself wholeheartedly into something I care about without worrying endlessly about all the negative what-ifs. I switched them around: what if I try anyway, before I feel ready, before everything is perfect? Yes, I might start my own business and fail, but what if I don’t?

Why I started editing

Friends and family had been asking for my advice with various writing projects since I’d left teaching, from a travel memoir to biochemistry papers. They knew I would make honest and thoughtful suggestions, and I had an eye for detail. Their feedback encouraged me to pursue freelance editing and proofreading because I saw they appreciated my help.

I initially started freelancing to reconnect and contribute to the world in general after a career break. After a lot of deliberation and further study, I took on a couple of freelance clients, friends of friends, and studied some more.

BitmoJo hitting the books to learn editing and proofreading skills.

Getting work online

When I’d built up some experience, I joined a popular freelancing platform and took on a few projects that I was confident I could do well. Sometimes clients were surprised at how well I’d helped them, which got me thinking about the reputation of certain freelancing sites. I was also concerned about ethics. For example, clients asking for help with grammar were not best placed to judge how well people had corrected their grammatical errors.

I’m grateful to those platforms for connecting me with clients around the world and helping me discover work I loved, but I also wanted to distinguish myself from some people on there who were not giving freelancers a good name.

Soon I’d been freelancing for a while, but I hadn’t really thought of it as running my own business. I was inspired by one of my clients who ran her own business in a completely different field. I thought that if they could do it, maybe I could too and started looking into it.

BitmoJo editing and proofreading online.

Owning your reputation

Some clients on the platform I was using were not having good experiences with other freelancers. This worried me. If a client wants my opinion on their work, I am committed to being honest and supportive, but is everyone?

I took on some beta reading projects and found someone who had previously been told, “Your writing is all over the place.” Not helpful! I didn’t need my experience coaching and mentoring in education to know that there were better approaches than that. Criticizing someone else does not make you look good. I wanted to help writers develop their work, so their writing can be enjoyed by others, not trash their confidence.

I eventually decided to start a business because I wanted to be responsible for my own reputation and pricing, not be tied to a platform. It was a natural progression, but it felt like a big, scary step into the unknown!

BitmoJo working out the chances of failure.

Deciding to go for it

Considering how long my husband and a close family friend had been encouraging me to start freelancing, I made the decision to start my own business relatively quickly. By now, I knew I could help people with their writing and apply my attention to detail to their work. I had accumulated some skills and experience and could articulate my responses in a thoughtful and constructive way.

There are so many excellent free resources online about running a business that I was confident I could figure it out as I went along. I love learning new things, and I had a long-term writing project lined up so I knew I would have some income.

A key moment for me was when I thought, What if I try? If it all comes to nothing, never mind. I stopped being afraid of failure.

BitmoJo with a clipboard, feeling positive.

Investing in yourself

With some money from my initial freelance projects, I invested in membership of a professional organization (the CIEP – the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading) and training to give clients confidence that I could do the job I said I could do. Membership of the CIEP also gives me some fantastic opportunities to connect with other members and learn from their experiences.

I also invested in some kit such as Office 365. The cost still makes me shudder, but it is worth it to run my business professionally. Other essentials for me are PerfectIt, the Chicago Manual of Style and some other online reference books, and my favourite reference websites (I have a sudden urge to make a list. Update: I made a list of my top editing resources). I’m in the I 💚 Grammarly camp because, although some of the suggestions are rubbish, the thought of writing emails to clients without it fills me with terror. Editors make typos too, but we feel terrible about it for a really long time afterwards!

Comparing yourself to others

I fell into this trap at first – don’t do it! Especially if you are starting out and they’ve been doing it for years. Initially, I felt self-conscious that I didn’t have an MA in English Literature or Creative Writing; my sister is the English graduate!

Instead of comparing myself to other editors, I thought, OK, what was I doing while they were doing that thing that makes me feel inadequate? I had a lot of answers and it helped me figure out my strengths. After all, psychology, science, and teaching have a lot to do with storytelling.

Find something that sets you apart. I love working with world mythology because myths are our oldest stories and inspire a lot of fantasy fiction. Reading stories from other countries, cultures, and times reveals so much that people have in common, showing threads that unite us as humans.

BitmoJo with a pile of folders figuring out what her strengths are.

Supporting, not judging

As an independent editor, I get to be part of my client’s team. We’re on the same side. I’m not an acquisitions editor, a mysterious gatekeeper who says if you can or can’t publish something. I am not forced to make decisions based on how financially viable I think the project is, stifled by looking out for the next bestseller.

Working ethically is central to me, and I don’t accept a project if it’s not ready for that level of editing yet. Writers should feel empowered by editing. The suggestions I make are just that, not mandates, and it’s the writer’s choice to use them or not. I’m not the grammar police either, though I think that might require a separate blog post …

When some of my writing was edited by a professional colleague, it felt like such a treat (thank you, editorial team at World History Encyclopedia). Their comments were insightful and empowering, they did not make me feel like I’d made a mistake, and their suggestions made my work look good. It helped that, by then, I was well practised at receiving feedback because the first time can really sting!

BitmoJo with a sign that says "Judgement free zone".

You don’t have to hire an editor

You can self-publish your book by yourself. Yes, you can! But it is a lot of work. Traditionally published books have been pampered by a sizeable team of professionals. If you can afford it, depending on your goals, you might like to treat your book to a bit of that too. Getting feedback will help you see your work in new ways, and if you plan to write more than one book, it will likely be a valuable investment in your writing.

A fresh, trained pair of eyes will spot things you are too close to your work to see. Maybe you are very busy or really don’t enjoy proofreading (and proofreading your own work is notoriously difficult – tips on proofreading your own work here).

If you hire a professional, you can rest assured that the details are taken care of. If you’re on a tight budget and have no opportunity to save up, find a couple of volunteer beta-readers and persuade anyone you can to look for typos for you. That should get you off to a good start.

BitmoJo saying "exactly" to self-publishing your book.

What if the time is now?

If you’re like I was, you might feel inclined to play it safe and put your own goals on the back burner until the time is right. But the timing will probably never be perfect, so what if you gave yourself a push? What small step could you take? You don’t have to be a leading expert to get started, and you might just learn a lot on the way.

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Five things to consider before writing and publishing a book.

Do you dream of becoming a published author? It can be easy to overlook some of the potential challenges. Here are some things to consider before launching into a big writing project, especially if you’re determined to see it through.

Writing and publishing a book takes an investment of time, effort, and possibly money. I’ve ghostwritten two published books and am working on a third. These are the things I think about for my writing future, so one day, a book I’ve written will have my own name on it. Maybe these five things will help you too.

1.   What’s your motivation to write?

BitmoJo with her published books.

Why do you want to write a book? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of being a published author, perhaps you love the act of writing, or maybe you have stories fighting to get out. Some people write to add credibility to their reputation or to leave a legacy. Everyone has a voice worth hearing.

It can help to have a reason bigger than selling lots of books in case that doesn’t happen right away. Instead of having unrealistic expectations about sales and maybe being disappointed, create something to be proud of when you release your book into the world.

2.   Who’s your book for?

BitmoJo making notes about publishing genres.

Who will read your book? Writing for yourself or friends and family is a perfectly acceptable answer. One of my favourite books was written by a friend while she was dying of cancer. There wasn’t time for editing and she printed uncorrected proofs for her friends and family. I’m glad she did. It might not be ready for a bookshop, but it means so much to everyone who has a copy, typos and all.

If you plan to sell your book, you’ll want to consider your audience. What sort of age group and genre are you aiming for? You don’t have to pigeonhole yourself into one specific genre, but what might the people who’d really like your book be looking for? You can look through Amazon categories for ideas, but don’t get too hung up on them!

3.   Practise, but don’t get stuck practising indefinitely.

BitmoJo with a giant pencil to practise writing before publishing a novel.

Have you written before, or do you need some practice? I see lots of advice about how to sit down and write. Write every day … do so many words per day, etc. But do you worry you might write 80,000 words of rubbish if you’ve never written much before? Maybe that’s just me! It’s normal to think your first draft sucks, you can read my post about self-editing if you have your first draft written.

You could start with short stories to practise different writing styles or points of view. Get feedback from beta readers and/or other writers (or possibly independent editors) and see if using some of that feedback makes you feel happier with your work.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend loads of money on classes and courses. There’s a balance between not thinking you are good enough and launching straight into a novel – don’t hold yourself back! If you’ve had some practice and feedback, you’ll have built your skills and confidence.

4.   How will you publish your book?

BitmoJo with an e-book published online.

It’s worth looking carefully into the publishing options available to you. Traditional publishing, self-publishing, and plenty of scams, it seems. I’m sure there are ethical hybrid publishers out there but please research carefully before you hand over large sums of money and possibly the control of your work.

If you decide to self-publish, it’s so easy to upload your e-book to Amazon, for example, and then wonder why no one has bought it yet. You could think of marketing as a necessary evil, but I prefer to think of it as enabling the people who would really want to buy your book to actually find it.

If you think marketing your book is a necessary evil, try thinking of it as enabling people who would want to buy your book to actually find it.

If you plan to self-publish, you could add to your savings while writing for things like editing and cover design. If you then get a contract via traditional publishing, you could have a holiday instead!

5.   Can you afford the time to see writing a book through?

BitmoJo thinking of a plan to make time to write.

For me at least, good writing takes time. Do you have time you can dedicate to writing? Can you squeeze writing into your routine before or after your day job or studies? Maybe you can give yourself a break to focus on your book. Chances are, something will have to move aside while you invest time in writing.

If you’re self-publishing and want a professional finish, that’s likely to have cost implications unless you have some very well-placed friends! There are so many options if you have the budget, from manuscript critiques, developmental editing, line/copyediting, proofreading, cover design, and marketing. I am not saying that’s all feasible for all of us, just that the options are there these days.

Assess your priorities, gift yourself the time to write as an investment in your long-term goals, and consider adding to your savings, just in case!

This is what I’ve been thinking about. What about you?

Did you underestimate the investment in time, effort or cost required when you started writing? I know I did!

BitmoJo thinking with a question mark.

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Which type of editing would benefit your book the most? 

With the rise of quality self-publishing, various types of editing are available for independent authors. But what are they and are any right for you?

Familiarizing yourself with the main types of editing can help you make an informed decision about where to invest your time and money. This’ll bring out the best in your story and get it ready for readers to enjoy. 

Amila is a self-published fiction author. They were so excited to finish writing their first novel and couldn’t wait to publish it online. Amila decided to DIY the proofreading so there’d be money left over for professional cover design, which turned out gorgeous! The good news: Amila’s book started to sell a few copies. The bad news: the reviews complained about spelling and grammar, and one asked if an editor had even been hired. Ouch. Amila wished the reviewers could look beyond the missed errors and focus on the incredible story.

OK, I made Amila up, but their story is one I’ve seen several times. Reviews concerned with spelling and grammar are not very encouraging for a first-time author, but they can be avoided, allowing readers to focus on your story.

The general idea: level of focus

Types of editing

  1. Developmental editing (big-picture, story-level work)
  2. Line editing (stylistic line-by-line work like overwriting)
  3. Copyediting (spelling, punctuation, grammar, consistency)
  4. Proofreading (final quality control checks)
  5. Proof-editing (proofreading before page setting with light copyediting)

What is self-editing?

How to save money on editing

The general idea: level of focus

You can think of different types of editing as how zoomed in they are, from a bird’s-eye view of story-level issues to peering through a magnifying glass at a comma on the opposite side of speech marks. In the middle would be sentence-level issues like repeated phrases or overwriting.

With an unlimited budget, every book could be pampered with big-picture feedback, then sentence-level feedback, error-checking and extra quality control. But chances are, that doesn’t apply to many of us! Let’s look at each level of editing in more detail so you can make informed decisions to invest wisely.

Types of editing

Whether you aim to self-publish or grab the attention of a literary agent or publisher, professional editing can help your writing. Editors call different types of editing by various names depending on their background and training, so I’ve tried to include these alternative names. 

Developmental editing

BitmoJo on a bird for developmental editing.

Developmental editing (sometimes called structural or conceptual editing) focuses on big-picture, story-level issues like character and narrative arcs. Developmental editing is typically done during the earlier stages of a book’s creation, before any other type of editing. It would be a shame to have your book copyedited in detail and then decide to change whole scenes.

Developmental editors usually provide detailed comments on the strengths and opportunities of your story for things like character development, plot, setting, and pace, for example. They may make suggestions and give example rewrites for you to consider or provide a feedback report in the form of a manuscript critique.

Line editing

BitmoJo with binoculars for line editing.

Line editing (also called stylistic, substantive, or sentence-level editing) is concerned with overall sentence structure. In fiction, this involves how dialogue is laid out, repetition, redundancy, point of view slips, consistency errors, and overwriting, for example.

Being attentive to the writer’s style is especially essential in line editing. Line editors aren’t looking to fix every minute error but rather examine the words you use to communicate with your readers. For example, in some genres, readers will expect a concise, action-packed style; in others, something more descriptive.


BitmoJo with a magnifying glass.

Copyediting involves reviewing a piece of writing for spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice, and consistency of style, like italics or hyphenation, for example. Professional copyeditors will provide you with a style sheet, or you can provide your own if you like. 

A copyeditor ensures the author’s message is clear, corrects any accidental errors, and suggests ways to improve the text. It can be invaluable to have a fresh pair of eyes look over your work for blips you are too close to see. Clarity is key: copyeditors help ensure readers receive the message you intended.


BitmoJo with an oversized magnifying glass.

Proofreading is reviewing the final version of a written text to catch any remaining typos, punctuation, grammar mistakes or formatting problems caused by page setting.

The overlap between copyediting and proofreading means that many people use the terms interchangeably. Traditionally, they describe very different processes that benefit your book in unique ways.

In traditional publishing, a book is copyedited and proofread by different people to maximize the number of errors caught.


BitmoJo with a book coming out of a laptop screen.

As so much copyediting and proofreading is now done onscreen, there is the opportunity for flexibility. In traditional publishing, proofreading happens after page setting. Many writers now request proofreading before page setting. This means that some proofreading-only checks are not required (widows, orphans, or stacked hyphens, anyone?) but some light copyediting can be included without throwing all the formatted pages off.

You can think of proof-editing as a pre-page setting proofread with light copyedit. Many editors call this proofreading to avoid confusion.

What is self-editing?

BitmoJo editing at a desk.

Self-editing is any rewriting and improving that you do after your first draft. Self-editing comes before hiring a professional editor and the processes are complementary. Chances are you don’t want to publish your first draft as is – I know I don’t!

It can sometimes feel challenging to edit your work, but there are many helpful online resources. Check out my post on self-editing if you like.

Getting your writing in the best shape you can before hiring an editor will enable them to focus on the next layer of improvements instead of you paying them to fix things you could have done yourself. If you are short on time rather than budget though, this might be exactly what you want.

How to save money on editing

I would recommend doing as much self-editing as you can before hiring a professional editor. As part of that, you could get big-picture feedback from beta readers. It can be an affordable way to see how readers respond to your story but bear in mind that comments will vary in how helpful they are. Receiving feedback often (always?!) stings initially, so give yourself time to process it and choose which ideas you want to take on board to improve your story.

A benefit of a professional editor is that they are more likely to be sensitive, encouraging, and diplomatic in the way they give feedback and their suggestions less subjective. Many editors offer developmental feedback or a manuscript critique, which can be an affordable way to get professional input without a full-blown “done for you” structural edit. You can then act on the suggestions you choose and complete the developmental graft yourself. You could then see what your beta readers think after that.

If you are happy with the big-picture elements of your story but are not sure how to improve your writing style, you could try a mini line edit. For example, you can get professional stylistic feedback on say 10,000 words of your novel (you guessed it, I offer this service) and use the recommendations from your editor as you self-edit the rest of your manuscript.


Now you’re familiar with the different types of editing on offer from professional editors, you can more confidently communicate your wishes as a writer. Discuss your ideas with your editor to ensure your work receives the attention it deserves.

Remember, you don’t have to accept every suggestion an editor makes; it’s your work and you’ll know best which ideas are right for you.

Well-written books have been well-edited, ensuring your hard work results in readers enjoying your story without being distracted by puzzling plot holes, lacklustre characters, ambiguous grammar, or pesky typos.

Do you love or loathe self-editing?

How have your experiences with beta readers gone?

Which type of professional editing sounds the most helpful?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences; let me know in the comments below! 

Bitmojo ready to answer your questions.

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How to edit the first draft of your novel: a guide to rewriting

Have you written the first draft of your book, but you’re not sure what to do next? The prospect of rewriting can be daunting. But if you made it to the end of your first draft, I’m sure you’ve got what it takes to do a second draft too.

Where do you start? Here’s what I do when ghostwriting or helping writers with their early drafts. I hope some of the following steps will help you revise the first draft of your manuscript too.

  1. Put your first draft away and take a break
  2. Revisit your genre and reader expectations
  3. Read your novel all the way through and make notes
  4. Sum up your story in a few sentences
  5. Summarize each chapter or scene
  6. Start rewriting your draft using your notes
  7. Focus on the big-picture elements first
  8. Cut anything that doesn’t serve your story
  9. Zoom in to edit the details
  10. Reflect, rest, repeat
  11. Get ready for feedback on your story

There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting. —Robert Graves

Step 1: Put your first draft away and take a break

BitmoJo taking some time out to refresh.

The first step of editing the first draft of your manuscript is to … not edit the first draft of your manuscript, at least for a while.  Take a break; it’ll increase how effectively you edit later. Celebrate what you’ve achieved so far!

Stepping back means that you can look at your work with a fresher perspective when you return to your story. Time helps add some distance between you and your writing and makes it easier to see what needs to be changed.

When you feel refreshed, roll your sleeves up; yes, it might look like a grueling slog from here on out, but it’s going to be worth it.

Step 2: Revisit your genre and reader expectations

BitmoJo setting off on a fictional adventure through the forest.

You want people who will love your book to be able to find it, and genre is a part of that. Maybe you have a target genre or genres already planned, but if not, now is a good time to look into it.

It can help to consider who will read your story and what sorts of things they will be looking for or expect from the type of book you want to create. What readers expect from epic fantasy is not the same as what they expect from a travel memoir (although on some levels, maybe it is!). Does your novel deliver the story elements readers of your genre are looking for?

Knowing your genre (or genres) and target audience can also help you with the length of your novel. Are you writing for young adults or adults? This will affect things like prominent themes, language use, and word count. Masterclass has a helpful article on suggested word counts by genre.

Step 3: Read your novel all the way through and make notes

BitmoJo reading and taking notes at her desk.

Save your first draft as a separate file and give it a new name. I recommend you read it all the way through and make a note of things that stand out to you, good and not so good. You could do this on paper or use comments in your word processor. Focus on the big picture, story-level issues, and don’t worry if you don’t know how to fix any problems you find yet.

I often highlight things that I want to return to later, and you might like to write a comment at the end of each chapter about how you are feeling while reading. Was it a slog of a chapter? Did your cliffhanger grab your attention even though you know what happens next? Experience your story as a reader might. 

While reading, some story-level issues you might want to have in mind are character motivation, emotion, stakes, and conflict. What is your main character up to, and why should we care? Note down any plot holes or unanswered questions. Does anything feel off? Are there inconsistencies like making pancakes for breakfast but eating toast?

Step 4: Sum up your novel in a few sentences

BitmoJo mining to find the heart of a story.

Now you’ve read your first draft all the way through, how would you sum up your story in as few sentences as possible? Can you do it in one? Think about the central problem your main character has to overcome or their key transformation. This can help you find the core of your story and gives you something to keep in mind as you get stuck into editing in the next step.

Historical and speculative fiction author K. M. Weiland gives some advice in “3 Steps to Find the Heart of Your Story.”  Once you’ve got your goals in mind, it’s time to sharpen your pencil, or, you know, mouse?

Step 5: Summarize each chapter or scene

After figuring out the core of the story, what it’s really going to be about, I like to read through the first draft again and make more purposeful notes. I note down the important elements of each chapter in my chapter summary document (document link pending, but if you reach out I can send you a copy), which you are welcome to use the template for.

You could fill in main events, characters present, reflections from your rough notes, and any ideas you have about what you want to change. You don’t need to write in vast amounts of detail if you don’t want to, but this set of notes will help you navigate your manuscript when you want to make changes.

Speaking of navigation, if you format your chapter numbers/titles as headings in Word, they will show up in the navigation pane and make your rewriting life easier. (I use Office 365 and it appears when you press Ctrl+F.)

Screenshot of heading styles and navigation pane in Word.
Styling chapter titles as headings makes navigation easier.

Step 6: Start rewriting your draft using your notes

BitmoJo reading a book on the laptop.

Armed with your chapter summary notes, you are now in a great position to start rewriting. Having notes helps you break down your task into manageable chunks, and you can pick up and put down your work without losing track of what you are trying to achieve or completely forgetting about small details that you want to return to later.

You don’t have to make your changes in order. Identify any easy wins; are there any quick changes you can start with? Once you’ve made a start, identify any big chunks of your first draft that need to be moved around. Now is a good time to move things into the right place in your story, such as a scene you have found a better home for. It will make the rest of the rewriting process easier.

Break things down into chunks and tackle tasks one by one. There’s no rush to do it all at once, right? When you get stuck in, you might find it’s not as bad as you expected!

Step 7: Focus on the big-picture elements first

BitmoJo flying on a sparrow for an overview of the big picture.

Don’t make the mistake of crafting beautiful sentences that don’t serve your story. It is much more helpful to focus on the big-picture, story-level issues first. You don’t want to spend ages perfecting scenes that you will later cut.

Is something happening in every chapter or scene that contributes to plot development and/or character development? Is there a balance of narrative and dialogue? Is someone sitting on the sofa thinking for a really long time?

Every scene should have a purpose and be engaging to readers. Scenes should help readers understand the characters and story better and make them want to keep reading. You probably want your scenes to draw readers in, orient them in time and place, and escalate the tension towards some sort of change that affects the story. 

Look at your chapter endings. If they are all in the same format, such as neatly wrapping up the end of the scene in a tidy bow, you might consider adding some variety like a cliffhanger, a realization, or a reflection. Louise Harnby gives excellent examples of different types of chapter endings loaded with suspense, which can be applied to multiple genres.

Step 8: Cut anything that doesn’t serve your story

BitmoJo thinking about what can be taken out of a novel.

The purpose of this step is to identify where cuts need to be made. This can be a challenging step because you’ve spent a lot of time and effort on those words! The best way to approach this step is to imagine how it will benefit your story as a whole and maximize reader enjoyment.

If any scene isn’t pulling its weight and contributing to your story, it’s got to up its game or go. It can be hard to delete things, so try moving them to a separate document instead if you are feeling reluctant. Then you know it’s not lost forever, and your novel will be better off overall without it.

You never know, something you have cut may inspire a future project. If you are not sure what a scene is contributing, ask yourself if the ending of your story would still make sense if you deleted it. If the ending is unaffected, it can probably go.

When deciding whether to cut a scene, ask, “Would the end of my story still make sense without it?”

Step 9: Zoom in to edit the details

BitmoJo with a magnifying glass proofreading.

Now you are confident that everything is in the right (or better) order, you can take a closer look at your sentences. If you’re feeling apprehensive about this stage, just focus on little tweaks that will improve your writing overall. What do you like or not like the sound of? Are there any sections that are unclear or repetitive?

You might like to look out for things like accidentally changing tense or head hopping at this stage, if that’s relevant to your writing. Have a look at the dialogue. Is it adding to plot and/or character development? I think it’s more important for dialogue to be effective than exactly like real life.

Are there any words that can be cut from your novel to make it more concise and readable? Excessive adjectives, adverbs, and flowery language can be trimmed to make your writing more impactful. By cutting these words and phrases, you can focus on the most essential elements of your story and create a powerful narrative that engages your readers.

Step 10: Reflect, rest, repeat

BitmoJo resting and reflecting on a novel under a tree.

Reflect on whether your core message is coming through. Check your chapter summary document. Is it covered in satisfying ticks, smiley faces, and green highlighting like mine? Congratulations, now you have your second draft! You may well want to put it away again while you take a well-deserved break.

When you’re ready, read it through and take notes again. Now you are more likely to be focusing in on paragraph and sentence level issues. Do any sentences still sound clunky? Is your dialogue a little too realistic? Have you spotted repetition, overwriting or redundancy? Had a great idea how to describe someone’s look or an item of furniture? Great! Now is the perfect time to add it before asking other people to read your work.

Of course, how many drafts you do before you want other people to read your work is entirely up to you. Some writers do two or three drafts, others nine.

Step 11: Get ready for feedback on your story

BitmoJo reading a book to give feedback.

There’s no definite moment when your novel is ready, and you might feel like you are taking a leap of faith. You will want to seek out sources of feedback that will be constructive rather than discouraging.

All feedback has the potential to sting initially, even when phrased kindly. This is just how are brains are wired up to be sensitive to perceived criticism. You might be part of a writing group, have a critique partner, or have some beta readers lined up. Although geared towards non-fiction authors, this Scribe article has some insightful tips for working with beta readers.

Have you ever reread a book several years later a felt like you were reading a completely different book? Every reader reads the same book differently, interpreting what they read in their own unique way. Beta readers might not be able to tell you how to fix your story, but they will be pretty good at spotting issues. Remember, try not to take feedback to heart but use it selectively as an opportunity to grow as a writer.

Once you have integrated feedback from beta readers and/or a manuscript critique, you may consider a more focused professional edit to smooth your writing and spot remaining errors.  Ideally, all books would benefit from several rounds of professional editing, but if you are self-publishing, budget is likely to be a constraint. Look out for my upcoming post on different types of editing to see which might benefit your story the most.


Rewriting is an essential part of self-editing. It’s ok if you think your first draft is rubbish (I think my first drafts are rubbish!) because many authors agree that it’s in the rewriting where the magic happens. You are probably going to edit your first draft multiple times, but once you get going, you might find it’s not as bad as you expected.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” ―Terry Pratchett

How many drafts do you usually do before you let anyone read it? Can you sum up what your novel is about in one sentence? Do you have any top tips for getting started on editing your first draft? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

BitmoJo with a question mark on her head.

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Top 10 tips to proofread your own work more accurately

You know why proofreading is essential, but how can you do it yourself without missing those pesky typos, punctuation and spelling mistakes, and grammatical slips?

Proofreading is very different from how we usually read, especially if you are a fast reader. It can be difficult to spot mistakes in your own writing because your brain already knows what you are trying to say! We become too close to our own work, and our eyes automatically skip ahead, missing the blips we are trying to find.

But the good news is it’s a learned skill. These proofreading tips will help you complete a careful inspection of spelling, punctuation, and grammar to catch more of those potentially embarrassing mistakes and increase the quality and professionalism of your work.

None of the links are affiliate links; I’m just recommending tools you might find helpful.

1.    Let some time pass

Bitmojo taking some time away from writing and editing.

Sleep on it if you can. The longer you can put your work aside before proofreading, the fresher and more accurate you will be. Take a break, or even better, leave it until the next day. Allocate time for proofreading at the end of a project to avoid rushing before a submission date.

Trying to proofread something you have just written or edited will lead to errors being missed as your eyes simply skip over them. This is why, in publishing, copyediting and proofreading are often done by separate people.

2. Change the appearance

If it is practical to print your document out, you might choose to. This is a favourite proofreading hack of many authors.

If you prefer to work on screen, like me, you might like to change the font (my favourite is Calibri, I’m not sure why!), or make the font size bigger.

3. Proofread a clean copy

BitmoJo proofreading onscreen.

Attempting to proofread a copy with comments or annotations can be distracting. Turn off electronic markup or print a fresh copy if you are working on paper and the document isn’t too long.

Viewing a marked-up version, such as tracked changes in MS Word, can also make it difficult to spot missing or extra spaces.

4. Change viewing mode

If you are working in Microsoft Word, it helps to do a final check using full screen Read Mode. I prefer the Immersive Reader view because it allows typing, which enables you to make any tweaks without the hassle of going in and out of Read Mode. Immersive Reader is also easy to customize:

Immersive Reader is easy to customize.
Text adapted from The Babylonian Legends of the Creation by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge

5. Read your work aloud

BitmoJo reading out loud to spot proofreading mistakes.

This might depend on your workspace, but if you have the opportunity to read your work aloud, don’t feel silly – it really does help! It’s effective because it forces you to slow down and engages additional areas of your brain. It can help you spot awkwardly worded sentences that may benefit from being rephrased.

As an extra step, try reading to an audience, such as a pet or other willing volunteer. You might be surprised by the errors that suddenly jump out at you when you read aloud.

6. Highlight sentence by sentence

Example text with a single sentence selected to highlight it while proofreading.

Another tip for slowing your eyes down when working on screen is to select individual sentences with your cursor. It stops you from automatically reading ahead. This is especially useful if you’re unsure whether there’s an improvement to be made or not, or you’re working on a technical document. In Word, you can use Line Focus in Immersive Reader for the same purpose.

The on-paper version of this tip is to use a ruler to inspect text line by line. I’ve never got into holding a ruler up to the screen, but I’ve heard some people do!

7. Do a separate formatting pass

Once you’ve read through everything, read through again specifically looking for formatting issues. Do chapter headings or subtitles match? Are numbers in order? Are all paragraphs justified?  How are new paragraphs styled in your writing, and is indentation consistent?

In fiction, it is standard to indent all paragraphs except the first paragraph in a new chapter or section.

Example fiction text showing full out first paragraph and indented second paragraph.
Text adapted from the Babylonian Legends of the Creation by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge

8. Use tools with care

Don’t overlook your spelling and grammar checker, but use it with care. They are often wrong and do miss things, but they are worth it when helpful suggestions are made. If you have unfamiliar names, like in the example above, you can add them to the custom dictionary so if you misspell it further on, it can be easily spotted.

I recommend the free version of Grammarly, which covers grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It’s definitely worth a look if you’ve never used it before.

Of course, not all suggestions will be a good fit for your writing style, especially if you are a fiction writer, so AI hasn’t eliminated the need for human editors just yet!

Grammarly free suggesting Lets is corrected to Let's with an apostrophe.

9. Hone your skills

BitmoJo ready to learn new language skills.

Professional proofreaders and editors look things up all the time. Yes, we probably all have favourite dictionaries and style guides. Dictionaries are great for checking if terms are one word, hyphenated, or two and, if you are a fiction writer, they are surprisingly helpful for slang and swear words.

If spelling and grammar checkers are flagging up things you’re unsure about, you can read up on them to learn more. When can you use a semicolon? What is the difference between a hyphen and an en dash? How do you punctuate dialogue in a novel? Hours of exciting research!

10. Enlist help

An extra pair of eyes can help spot things you may have missed. A helpful friend, family member, or colleague is always a useful addition to your proofread if they are willing to look over your work.

Ideally, your volunteers will have the skills to match the stakes of your project. For example, if you are writing a scientific article for publication in a journal, your best friend may or may not be able to help you with that. If the stakes are high, you might consider hiring a professional proofreader or copyeditor.


Proofreading your own writing has its challenges, but with these top 10 proofreading tips, you can improve your chances of spotting typos, spelling and punctuation mistakes, and grammatical and formatting errors.

The key is to slow down, look at it differently, and be aware of what you are looking for. If the stakes are high, like if you plan to self-publish a novel, a professional proofread or copyedit is a valuable investment in your work.

If you have your own top proofreading tip, please let me know in the comments! Do you write in a different variety of English from the ones below and have a dictionary to recommend? And does anyone else have a favourite proofreading font, or is it just me?

Merriam Webster. Online dictionary.

Grammarly. The free version covers spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Khan Academy. There’s an accessible free grammar course.

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