For some people self-editing is simple. For others, it is like slogging through a baby pool of peanut butter while being chased by hungry pigeons.
There are a lot of ways to overcoming the self-doubt and uncertainty associated with editing your own work. It is worth learning those tricks, because, when you begin critiquing your own work, you are able to recognize your faults and improve on them in your future writing. Thus, you will be growing and improving as a writer.
WHY SHOULD YOU LEARN TO SELF-EDIT?
- While writing you will see the errors and have fewer corrections later (and TRUST ME, there will come a time you will be so grateful for that…)
- You can save money! I don’t think it’s ever possible to be ready for publication without some sort of critical process (Betas, Critique readers, peer reviews, etc.) However, you won’t have to pay someone to do your line edits if you’re familiar with what you’re doing.
- It improves your craft. You wouldn’t learn your ABCs and then stop there. Whip those words into shape and banish the bad grammar.
Ultimately, when you master self-editing you can recognize what’s wrong with your work. The two greatest things to focus on when improving your self-editing are grammar and weak craft.
Examples of weak craft and grammar would be:
- Do you tend to use a verbal crutch?
- Do you know how to use dialogue tags?
- Do you have a habit of using too many secondary characters?
- Do you love starting sentences with maybe?
If you’ve worked through the checklist in the 3rd Author’s Learning Workshop, you will begin to quickly recognize issues that arise repeatedly. Oftentimes, when I find one error (let’s say a homophone, for example) I will use the search function and see if I’ve made the same mistake somewhere else in the text. While ALW #3 lists the edits you need to focus on, this post focuses on the psychology behind getting those edits done.
WHERE SHOULD YOU START?
The first thing you can do to improve your self-editing is make sure that you are strengthening your grammar knowledge. The best way to make sure you understand the general rules is to find a book like Strunk and White: The Elements of Style. There’s also a workbook that can walk you through a very simplified grammar tutorial from Strunk and White’s work.
Reference books teach you how to use dialogue tags, punctuation, quotations, use of commas, and other important issues that agents and editors want resolved when you submit your work. While Elements of Style was the reference resource we used most often while I was obtaining my BA, there are a lot of other references books available:
- Sin and Syntax
- It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences
- The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation
- English for Everyone: English Grammar Guide: A Comprehensive Visual Reference
The real trick is to find one that works for you and your learning style. Many grammar guides work through the rules systematically and with lists. Some resources use visual aids and examples.
Grammar guides are great for referencing a question or for shoring up your knowledge. They’re a lot harder to use if you’re starting from square one. Without a point of reference, you won’t even know when you should be looking for a problem. That’s why I suggest taking a class, reading craft books, and exchanging critiques with an experienced peer.
You can find classes:
- At your local community college
- At your local library
- Online through many writer’s resources
- Through your group memberships (like RWA, SCWBI, MWA, etc.)
There are also a lot of resources for self-educating, too. Some craft books that I’ve heard, consistently recommended are:
- The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maass
- Verbalize, by Damon Suede
- 5,000 Words Per Hour, by Chris Fox
- On Writing, Steven King
- Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder (For screenplays, but a classic for plot arc.)
- Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody (Based on the above – for novels!)
It is also possible to learn a lot of information from your peers. I would suggest reading essays and articles published in writer’s magazines such as Writers Digest. You can also follow many amazing writing websites like:
Once you know what to look for editing yourself is much easier. Those errors will start jumping off the page!
I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR NOW WHAT?
You have the list of edits from ALW #3 and you’ve sharpened your grammar and writing knowledge to a rapier point, but those edits keep slipping by…
If your Betas and CPs are still finding those stubborn edits, you might have writer‘s blindness to blame. It’s a real thing. When you’ve looked at your work so many times that your mind melts and your eyes bleed, it’s time to try a different tactic.
You can thwart writer’s blindness by doing a few different things:
- Read your work out loud
- Read your work backwards
- Edit one chapter at a time
- Highlight as you read
- Change the color of the text
- Change the size of the text
- Change the font
- Have an audio program read your work to you
- The easiest (though often the least preferred) – TAKE A BREAK BETWEEN DRAFTS
So, you’ve written your manuscript and polished it to a high shine, next up in the Author’s Learning Workshop – #6 PUBLICATION – PROS and CONS of Traditional and Indie Publication
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