It was suggested that I do a lesson on self-editing—something I’m somewhat reluctant to do because although I’m not opposed to self-editing, I don’t believe that it should—in most cases—take the place of professional editing. I promise that I’m not saying this because I’m an editor; I have several reasons for advocating for having another person edit your work:
1. We have all experienced this—the phenomenon of reading our own piece several times and missing a small error because we know what it is supposed
to say. When another pair of eyes looks at what you’ve written, that person is far more likely to catch small errors and typos that you have missed.
2. Even more significant, a second or third reader may catch more significant problems in your text: plot holes, missing background information, inaccuracies and the like. While a character’s actions may make perfect sense to you because you have created his back story and you hold it in your head, to another reader who cannot read your mind, those actions may be perplexing.
3. Frankly, a professional editor may know more about some aspects of writing than you do. Writing mechanics…the current market…what works best with your intended audience or in your chosen genre…these and more are all types of things that an editor can help you with.
4. If you are looking to publish—whether for a newsletter, a magazine, or a publishing house—your work will not get past the first desk it crosses if it is full or errors or otherwise not suitable.
5. Even if you’re self-publishing, you don’t want your name on a poorly-edited work. I’ve done editing work for several clients who rushed to self-publish without adequate editing, and have been embarrassed when they discovered that their work was not the best.
Nevertheless, there are times when you’ll want to self-edit. Many writing contests, for example (including FaithWriters’ Writing Challenge) do not allow work that has been edited by others. (See the Writing Challenge rules here
; a “buddy” is permitted for fine tuning, but not for substantive editing.) And many of you will want to “clean up” your MS a bit before sending it to an editor—sort of like rinsing the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Here then is a list of the sorts of things that you might want to look at if you’re going to give self-editing a go:
1. Eliminate unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. In places where you have an adjective + noun combination or an verb + adverb combination, see if there’s a single, more interesting noun or verb that would be better. In places where you have described something with a string of adjectives or adjective phrases, eliminate all but one of them.
2. Read out loud and see if there are distinctive words or phrases that you use a lot. If so, replace some of them with synonyms.
3. Look for usage of the “to be” verbs, and try to replace those with more interesting verbs.
4. Eliminate clichés. Eliminate clichés. Eliminate clichés. If you have seen it or heard it before, you might want to get rid of it.
5. Look at the flow of your piece (something else that will be evident when you read aloud). Do you have a mixture of short and long sentences? If they’re all short, find ways to combine sentences. If they all tend to be long, break some of them into shorter sentences. Same thing with paragraphs—varying lengths.
6. Along the same line with #5—publishers like a good amount of white space. Be sure that you have enough dialogue and short paragraphs for modern audiences’ short attention spans.
These were the things that occurred to me as I typed this lesson, but I thought I’d take this to several people who have experience with self-editing. Here is a list of some of the best ideas I got from them:
1. Make a list of your own common errors, and read through it several times, checking against that list.
2. Print it on paper and edit there.
3. Look for too many sentences that begin with characters’ names or with pronouns.
4. Check for POV errors—if it’s written in 3rd person limited or 1st person, be sure not to report things that happen in the heads of other characters.
5. Get rid of stuff that doesn’t move the story along or contribute to characterization.
Finally, almost everyone I asked said that they read aloud (and when I’m doing professional editing, I read aloud, too). It’s amazing how much you can catch that way. One of my writing friends even reads aloud backward
—not word-by-word, but paragraph by paragraph, and sometimes even sentence by sentence. It works for her, and it may works for you, too.No homework this week, but I welcome your comments or questions on self-editing or on editing in general.
Also, I encourage you again to submit pieces to the Critique Circle. I’ve been checking it daily, and I’m eager to critique your pieces, but there are very few new submissions there. It’s a great place to put Writing Challenge entries that didn’t do as well as you’d hoped, and to get some valuable feedback.