Tips and Tricks - Self-Editing

2013-Aug-26 -> from the going-it-alone department Tags: writing editing publishing tipsandtricks 

You made the decision to go it alone, and you're sticking to your guns. You've been over your manuscript twenty-three times and you swear it's clean. It's perfect. There can't possibly be any mistakes left after spending hundreds of hours going through draft after draft. So you publish it.

And then the first review comes in.

And they complain about the editing.

And you're crushed.

We've all been there.

Self-editing is hard. You get used to your story and the way it's written. This means that your brain, at a subconscious level, knows what you intended to write even if your hands developed a mind of their own. You read a sentence and see nothing wrong. Meanwhile, there's a glaring typo or grammatical error. Even your spelling and grammar checker forsake you as the sentence still technically works.

You need help to break your brain out of its know-it-all state and get it seeing every word again. This is where we begin.

Read it Backwards

Strange but true: if you read your manuscript backwards you will un-train your brain and get it looking at what you've written as though it's brand new. Take it one paragraph at a time, and do it slowly. Read every word, and make sure what's there is what you intended. This is also a good time to ensure that each paragraph can stand on its own.

Make a List

Chances are, if this is your first book, you won't know what your most common mistakes are yet. But keep your eyes open because as you edit you will learn what they are. Don't trust your memory to remember them all. Write it down into a list so that the next time you write something you can easily search for those mistakes and eliminate them. You will make the same mistakes over and over. It's nothing to be ashamed of. That's part of what makes you unique as a writer. That doesn't mean you can release your book with those mistakes still present though.

Your goal should be to become known for your fantastic writing, not your consistent mistakes.

Read it out Loud

This is a fantastic idea for new writers. It allows you to hear what your story will sound like in your reader's heads when they read it. If you stumble over a sentence, word, or paragraph, or something doesn't sound right, highlight it and move on. Don't try to edit while you read it out loud or you'll never get anywhere.

Better yet, record yourself while you're reading it and play it back. You should sound fluid and consistent when you read it. If you slow down or miss words, or change things as you go, mark it for revision in your manuscript. Be sure to follow along as you listen so you can compare what you said to what you wrote.

Look for Common Mistakes

There is a wealth of information online about the common mistakes writers make. You can look up these lists and use them to your advantage. I've used a number of them and always find some new mistake that I've been making that I turn around and correct. This is probably something you'll want to do as step one or two in your process.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Writing is a journey with many lessons to learn. Always keep an open mind about what you're doing and be sure to recognize and learn from your mistakes. Oh yes, you will make mistakes. I know I have. At every step of the way you will learn new skills, new tricks, and new methods and ideas. Welcome these lessons and grow into an author of the future.

Don't Edit Tired

You're going to want to get through the editing and get your book out into the world. I promise you, there will always be readers. In fact there are probably more active readers now than there has ever been before. But be patient and don't burn yourself out. You'll do better, more consistent work if you make sure you are well-rested. Editing while tired will cause you to miss more as your brain goes into a sort of auto-pilot mode.

Take your time, get into a groove, and you'll be writing much cleaner in no time. The second book will be much easier to edit, and the third even more so.

The Most Important Lesson

Don't go it alone. Writing may be a solitary job, but editing doesn't have to be. Get feedback from your peers, hire an editor, join local writing groups and get them to help, but above all else don't do this alone. I certainly don't. I'm an independent author who depends on a whole team of people to get my books published. I couldn't do it by myself and you shouldn't either.

It may be a lot of work, but the reward when the good reviews start coming in are totally worth it. Keep at it, and always move forward.

Eventually you'll get there.

Wherever "there" is.


Thanks for reading!

I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say. Contact Me, I'd love to hear from you.

Don't forget to join in on the conversation in the comments section below.

4 Comments:


By D.B. Sieders on Fri 30 Aug 2013 11:22:23 am [ Reply ] Great Post, Thomas!

Self-editing is one of the most difficult and most valuable skills a writer needs to master. I love the idea of reading aloud to look for those interruptions in flow that could throw a reader out of the story. And the admonition to get feedback from peers, editors, critique partners/writing groups is spot on! These resources make the work soooo much better, so much more polished, and the extra effort will make sure your readers trust you enough to keep coming back for more!

By Thomas A. Knight on Fri 30 Aug 2013 02:16:08 pm [ Reply ] Hey Dana! Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you liked the post. I get a number of questions from people about how I self-edit, which is why I decided to put it down into words.

By Hart Johnson on Fri 30 Aug 2013 11:44:07 am [ Reply ] Great list! I have one more I do that I found helps with my own language tics--word cloud by chapter--gives you a good idea of your crutch words--the ones you so often use that they just seem like how things are said. My last batch of this showed me how I abuse 'looked' (and 'though' I already knew about) Characters can be timid in their dialog, but the narrator shouldn't.

By Thomas A. Knight on Fri 30 Aug 2013 02:16:42 pm [ Reply ] Hey Hart, thanks for dropping by. That's a fantastic tip. Much appreciated. :)

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