Sunday, February 13, 2011

Taming the Beast

There’s lots of advice out there about self-editing. Since I’m on that journey right now, I thought I’d put in my half-penny’s worth.
In a word, I love writing. Editing? It’s a beast.
The first round of edits throws me into total panic, as in “oh my God! I spent two months writing this novella, and it’s AWFUL!” Luckily, that passes. Well, it passes after a while.
I usually do my edits in five or six stages, where the six draft should be the final draft. When I was a brand new writer, (back before dinosaurs walked the world) I used to try and get everything right in the first edit. Of course, I couldn’t. I would walk away feeling very dispirited and as if I’d completely wasted hours of my life that could have been spent watching Captain Kirk hijack the Enterprise crew from planet to planet.
Many, many moons later, I’ve learned to edit in layers. On my first run through the manuscript, I look for things that just plain don’t make sense. Like, why is my character explaining this again? He just said that—out. Or, how many times can I possibly use that word? Out.
The second time through, I look for dialogue elements in scenes. Third time, it’s narrative elements. By the fourth time, I’m focusing on word choice, spelling, paragraph structure, basic grammar elements. Fifth time, it’s continuity and overall story flow.
Then I banish myself from the manuscript.
When I pull it again (usually a couple of weeks later), I do my final draft. At that point, I’m looking for story. Did I tell a good story? Where can I make it a better story.
So, in a nutshell, I start on a very small scale, then work my way up to the big picture.
After that, it’s ready for a crit-partner.
I’ve heard this guy’s an editor. If anyone knows where I can find him, let me know…please.

What works for you when you self-edit?


  1. I tend to work on things in chapters. Every time I open the chapter I look over what I've already done, and find myself rephrasing, or changing or tweaking. Not until I think everything resonates with my inner ear do I move on to the next chapter. Which doesn't mean I can't go back over it later, of course. Sometimes I have to walk away for a day or two so I can come back with fresh eyes and look again. I also tend to work on more than one thing at a time, so I can always move to something else and have fresh energy for that. I don't bother with spellcheck til I'm done and ready to sub. Most of my errors tend to be extra spaces, and grammatical stuff that I don't find wrong, like fragmented sentences.

  2. Julie,
    That sounds like a great technique. Thanks for sharing!