Self Editing   2 comments

I’m in the editing part of my latest book and so I’m thinking about editing all of the time. A lot of writing gurus claim you shouldn’t edit your own writing … that you really can’t because you simply won’t see your own mistakes. I disagree.

Image result for image of manuscript editingSelf-editing is a valuable skill that will help you produce better work, improve the feedback you receive, and ultimately become a better writer.

Self-editing is not a substitute for working with an editor or proofreader. Getting a fresh, objective set of eyes on your manuscript is one of the best things you can do to improve your writing and its chance of success in the marketplace. There are editors out there for every genre and every budget, so please consider engaging one.

But, before you do, it’s well worth polishing your manuscript as much as you can before sending it to editors, beta readers, and proofreaders. Self-editing will save time and money by enabling your editor to work with fewer distractions. In a “clean’ manuscript, mistakes are more likely to stand out. And, in self-editing, you will become more aware of your weak points and less likely to make the same errors again.

“Editing” is an unfortunately broad term that covers everything from organizing the overall structure of a narrative to picking up minute spelling and punctuation errors. They’re actually very different tasks, and they require different approaches and, in many cases, different people to perform them.

So how do you self-edit in your writing process?

There’s a convention wisdom that says you should write a book without editing first. I’ve personally never been able to do that. When I feel a little stuck on the next scene, I often read earlier scenes to get myself going. Well, if I see a misspelling or clunk grammar, I edit that rather than waiting until later. But it is true that you should take a break between writing and editing.

The longer the manuscript, the more time you should take before picking it up again. Obviously, deadlines and other life pressures may make this impractical, but to the extent that it’s within your power, schedule your writing so that you can let it sit anywhere from overnight (for, say, a blog post) to several weeks (for a full-length book).

I suggest enlarging your display to a minimum of 200%. This limits the number of words that you’ll see on your screen at any one time, making you less likely to skim, and literally helps you see errors more clearly. In the same vein, consider changing your font or font color because this makes the manuscript you’ve been staring at for months seem fresh and new and actually helps you see errors.

What are you looking for as you edit your own manuscript? You want to improve it, to bring it closer to reader expectations for your genre. You want to have a clear, well-supported theme and excise extraneous or distracting material.

Content Editing

Get ready to kill some darlings … you know, those distracting subplots or multiple climaxes. I know that’s hard, but really, readers get bored by them.

If the first page—heck, the first sentence—doesn’t compel readers to keep reading, they won’t. I have a writer friend who says he doesn’t really write his first chapter until he’s pretty much done with his book and then he spends almost as much time writing his first chapter as he did writing the rest of the book. I don’t go that far, but I do tend to spend a lot more time on it in the rewriting phase because it is really that important. The first chapter is that crucial. It must give readers a tantalizing glimpse of what to expect from the rest of the book. You’re not done with the draft until it does.

One of the best places to create tension and compel the reader to keep turning pages is by crafting strong chapter endings that leave a little suspense. This doesn’t mean the chapters should simply cut off randomly in the middle of scene … at least not often. There is a place for “open” endings at the end of a chapter. You want the reader to want to find out what comes next. Use your chapter endings to showcase an important insight or action.

 

Copy/Line Editing

At this point, you’ve more or less nailed the content of your manuscript; now you want to be sure that the language flows—that it’s appropriate for your audience, conveys the right feeling, meets grammatical standards, and isn’t confusing or redundant.

Tighten it up! Most writers include more than they really need to in their original draft. Look for ways to shorten sentences and paragraphs. Sentences should be 75% active voice. Do a search for the word ” was ” and consider ways to rephrase sentences that use it as the primary verb. Consider whether you actually need a dialogue tag or if context can make it clear who is speaking.

Watch your metaphors. They’re a lovely thing that adds spice to your writing — unless they used badly, when they might confuse a reader or make them laugh when you don’t intend them to laugh. Double-check your descriptions to make sure that they’re in line with the tone you want to convey.

Check dialogue and action scenes carefully. Make sure that it’s clear who is saying what, either from context, accompanying action or dialog tags (they have their place).  With action scenes, carefully block out the action in your head to make sure that all your characters are where they are supposed to be and that the action is physically possible. You can even draw diagrams if you have to or invite your teenager to the backyard for a mock sword battle.

One of the best ways to “read” your writing objectively is to hear it out loud. Invest in some text-to-speech software or get a friend to read it out loud to you. You can also read it out loud to yourself, but I don’t find that as effective.

Know your limitations. Some of us can do these first parts ourselves because we have a background of editing others’ material. Some of us can’t. There’s one area where most writers really need some editing help.

 

Proofreading

It’s critical to have another person (ideally someone with proofreading experience) look over your work before you publish it. At this point, you’ve read your draft through too many times to be able to reliably catch tiny errors. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it as a proofreader before you send it off to your proofreader or critique partner. The cleaner the copy, the better.

Use your word processing program’s grammar and spell check. No, it won’t catch everything—and many of the things it catches won’t actually be errors—but it will almost certainly find some mistakes you’ve overlooked.

Use the find-and-replace function. You can change your single quotes to double quotes and your double hyphens to em-dashes (so, — to —) in a snap and far more accurately than if you do them one at a time. While you’re at it, replace all your double spaces with a single space—this is in line with current standards and will help the final product look more professional.

Just remember that find-and-replace is a double-edged sword; make sure that you replace only what needs to be replaced. Don’t get lazy and clip “replace all.”

Use the Search function. If you know you have a tendency to make the same errors over and over again (typing “from” for “form,” for example, or spelling a character’s name different ways) do a search for those mistakes and check them one by one to be sure they’re correct.

Print out your work, if possible, and proof on paper. Time-consuming and not always practical, it’s still one of the best ways to see your manuscript in a fresh light.

You Should Self-Edit

These are just a few of the many ways that you can improve your own manuscript before sharing it with readers and editors.

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Posted August 23, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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2 responses to “Self Editing

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  1. Reblogged this on All About Writing and more.

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on The BiaLog and commented:
    Some great points

    Like

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