It can be very difficult to switch from creating to editing, and writers always seem to be excited about one or the other. I'm usually most excited about the one I'm not currently doing.
If you're entering a contest like the one mentioned above, or if you haven't yet found a fellow writer who you click with enough to swap critiques, here are some tips for getting the most out of your self-editing. I've done more in-depth posts on these, so you can follow the links to read more.
I think this is the key for effective self-editing. Time away will refresh your eyes and help you discern what's working and what's not. When I finish a first draft, ideally I have at least 6 weeks away from it before I start editing.
If you can, read your manuscript in one sitting. Keep a notepad handy and jot down places where the story falls flat and needs improving or themes you want to elaborate on or character's who wound up with too-similar names. Watch to make sure every scene is necessary, that the plot is always advancing.
After you've done that, go in and do the heavy revisions - the scene additions, the plot line that needs to be scrubbed and so forth.
With the content edit, you were making sure that everything worked as a whole. Now it's time to examine all those little details.
With each paragraph, you should be asking yourself, have I been as succinct as possible in making my point? Or are you you using 3 sentences to describe something when you only need 1?
With each sentence, you're asking yourself these kinds of questions:
Is that the best possible word?
Could my character say something more interesting here?
Is there a fresher way to describe this?
If I cut this sentence, would it matter?
Does character A's dialogue sound the same as character B's?
The Sparkle Edit
This is the polish. The story should flow and the writing should be tight, but you're looking for things that slipped past you last time. Like those funky typos. You thought you cut and pasted, but it turns out you copied and pasted, so there's now two identical sentences floating around in that paragraph. Or where you have a character stand up ... and then two paragraphs later they stand up again. Or repetitive phrases and words.
Ideally you would now give yourself another break from the story. Maybe two or three weeks. I'm always surprised what I find when I do one more read-through after a brief break.
Writing friends are invaluable, but when - for whatever reason - you'r not able to have someone else critique your manuscript, the above process should help.
Anyone out there have other tips for self-editing?