My advice for self editing

If you’re serious about being a professional writer, you’ve got to get good at editing your own work. I actually run my own freelance business editing, and I can promise you one thing; editing starts with the writer. Otherwise, the editor isn’t going to be able to handle the job.

In addition to that, there are always going to be documents that you don’t want to send to an editor. I sure don’t have someone else edit every short story and blog post I write. (I don’t know that an editor could keep up with me.)

Here’s what you need to know about self-editing your work.

Give yourself some time

I actually have to be very careful as I write this, to not plagiarize anyone. Literally, everyone believes that this is the best piece of advice for writing. Write your story, be it a short story or novel, then put the damn thing away.

First off, you probably need a break. Go play cards with your kids, walk your dog, take a long bath.

This allows you to gain some perspective on the document. You can see it for what it really is, not for what you meant it to be. Because maybe it’s better than you meant it to be. Maybe it isn’t. But the fact of the matter is that your document is a living thing. It may have fallen short of what you wanted it to be or gone in a whole new direction. Either way, you’ll be able to tell better if you wait.

Don’t get too attached

Yeah, I know that I just called your document a living thin, but I didn’t mean the kind of living thing that you should get attached to. There are going to be parts of your story that you love but just don’t work. There are going to be lines that are brilliant, but just don’t go anywhere.

Cut it. If something is in your document that doesn’t add to the story, cut it. Save it, tell yourself you’ll use it some other way. Then cut it.

Print it out

I write my first draft out longhand, which forces me to type the whole damn second draft. This forces me to rethink every single part of it, rewriting all of it. Then, when I’m ready to do my third draft, I’ll print that out.

There’s something about having that draft that causes magic. I can find errors that I wouldn’t be able to if I just looked on a screen.

But in the final draft, I go over it right on the screen. So every draft is looked over on a different medium, which means every draft feels fresh.

Read it out loud

Want to write good dialog? Read it out loud. Want your descriptions to not overflow or sound unrealistic? Read it out loud.

Yes, you’ll feel a little silly at first. Sorry. But writers aren’t generally considered sane to start with. So accept it. Just do what you’ve got to do.

Don’t worry about grammar until you decide you’re keeping the chapter

When you first start editing, your grammar and spelling mistakes are going to be glaring. You’re going to want to fix them.

Don’t bother. You might not even keep this chapter! That’s why you’ve got to start with major issues. You’re going to write new chapters, cut whole paragraphs, move things around. Grammar is something you need to worry about later. Just worry about the big stuff first.

In fact, I usually don’t worry about grammar until the final draft. The second draft is for the really big issues. The third draft is to hone the story and fix anything I missed in the second draft. The final draft is when I worry about fixing grammar and spelling.

You want to give your editor as clean of a copy as possible. Don’t worry, they’ll still find things you missed. But the more you find, the more likely they’ll find the more confusing and difficult parts.


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