The process of self-editing

Love thy red pen

Red pen love... Photo credit:

Red pen love…
Photo credit:

When I talk with other writerly people, editing seems to be one of the most common pain points amongst them. Some people tell me they aren’t very good at it, some have decided that they can’t do it while others try to do the best they can but will often rely on BETA readers and editors to edit their manuscripts more completely.

I like editing.

Scary thought isn’t it?

I find it gives my creative brain a bit of a break despite the fact that I find aspects of it quite challenging. I know I’m not qualified at it or the best at it, I feel I have a fair grasp on a lot of the basics, but one can always learn more.

With this in mind, I went into this weeks writing class looking forward to the instruction on editing. I was not disappointed.

We started by going over the different types of editing. There are a vast number of articles that outline the types of editing, what they cover and what you could expect to pay for each of these different services. If you’re keen to learn more you can do a very quick google search, but here are a few good articles I found:

1. Word Cafe 

2. The Three Types of Editing

3. Bay Area Editors’ Forum

Things to consider before starting:

Depending on which book you read or who teaches you to edit, there will be varying techniques for reaching the same level of sophistication within your manuscript. The source for most of the notes in class stemmed from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (2004) by Renni Browne and Dave King. Amazon reviews seem to back up my teachers choice in this resource, with a vast number of 5 star reviews sporting glowing reports. This of course doesn’t mean you only follow these suggestions, but use it as a guide to perfecting your process, read widely and ask lots of questions of your readers.

Keep in mind also that depending on the type of  form you’re writing in you may feel the need to break some of the standard conventions. This doesn’t mean you should forego all editing, just apply what is relevant to your project.

Strategies for self-editing

We covered the 12 areas that Browne and King speak about in their book. It trains you to see your work through the eyes of an editor. Some of the areas were more immediately applicable to our writing for various reasons. Some of the class struggle with dialogue *raises hand*, others do a lot of telling instead of showing or  change point of view mid-paragraph. Sometimes this can be difficult to see in our own work, this book is written to help you understand and see common problem areas. Editing is a skill, it takes practice. Frequent exposure to different styles of writing at different levels of competency will help you to hone your skills.

The below points are areas you can address to polish your work.

  • showing rather than telling
  • characterisation and exposition
  • proportion
  • point of view
  • dialogue mechanics
  • see how it sounds
  • interior monologue
  • easy beats
  • breaking up is easy to do
  • once is usually enough
  • sophistication
  • voice

I was particularly interested in the information provided about dialogue. I have noticed that a lot of my work does not include dialogue, instead I prefer to get across what I want through other means. I got a lot of positive instruction even from the paragraph that we were provided in class. One point in particular stuck with me:

Mark every -ly adverb. How many of them do you have? How many of them are based on adjectives describing an emotion (hysterically, angrily, morosely etc)? You can probably dispense with most of them, though perhaps not all. Be selective.

Also, check your speaker attributions. Are there any physical impossibilities? 

E.g. “I hate to admit that,” he grimaced.

You can’t really grimace and speak at the same time. A grimace is a facial contortion showing an emotion not a way to say something.

The right verb is nearly always said. Well-intentioned attempts at variety usually don’t work because those verbs draw attention away from the dialogue.

After reading this and discussing the steps amongst the class I looked at one of the pieces I’m working on to submit next week (I’ll probably post a few times showing the various stages of my self-editing) and I was shocked to see I had done quite a lot of the above. When writing it seemed so right.

How do you go about self-editing? Are there any areas you struggle with more than others? Share any great techniques or tricks with us all below.


11 thoughts on “The process of self-editing

  1. Like Derrolyn, I always change the font when I edit and read out loud. Changing the font tends to pick up missed words and reading out loud is great for dialogue to see if it sounds ‘right’ and not too stilted 😀

  2. Editing is something I enjoy doing as well, although when you’re wrapped in the story, you can’t alway see the problems with it.

    One of the best pieces of advice I saw for editing was to walk away from the work and come back to it a few weeks later; that works really well. And changing the format as well – I always print out what I’ve done and catch things I’ve missed.

    I’ve written a blog post about the long editing process I’m about to go through with Book Five – be out on the 15th June on asidefromwriting blog.

  3. GREAT POST! I’m a self-taught self-editor, so thanks for the links – I’ll use them.The tricks I have up my sleeve so far are to : #1, read it aloud, #2, change the font & type size to get a new perspective (artists look at their drawings in a mirror), and best of all, let some time pass. It’s amazing how different things can seem after a few weeks / months.

    No matter how much time passes, I can ALWAYS find something to fix in all of my books, and that’s the both beauty and the curse of e-books.


    • Thanks!!

      You make some great points there Derrolyn. I too utilise those (although I haven’t tried resizing the text/font) I do tend to read the manuscript on the computer, then on the kindle (if applicable), then on paper. It’s amazing how much you can pick up in each of the different mediums.

  4. I am waging a constant battle to not edit-as-I-write. But, I took editing as a module at uni, so when I actually come back to things, I have a good idea what I’m doing and sometimes surprise myself with my ruthlessness!

    (Speaking of editing, I have just finished a new story that needs readers, you interested?)

    • Ah! Yes that little editor who will not go away as you try to create! I battle with her too. 🙂

      I would be glad to have a squiz Molly. You have my email addy still right?

      • I do! Ill send it along one day!

        I battle with it constantly, and I find it really breaks the flow of writing. I wish I could be the kind of person who just lets it out and worries about the editing later, but I’m too much of a perfectionist!

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