Editing Your Own Work Can Be Difficult


Face it…

Most of us have had to do it.  Whether an author editing a manuscript, or a student editing a paper for college.  Editing your own work can be difficult.  The words are written and now they need to be edited.  Thankfully as an author it is not as urgent as it is with a college paper, but the principle remains the same.

Editing your own words is a mind-numbing task.  When you read them, you can miss things because you already know what is written.  Simple typos go uncorrected, capitalization improper and so on.  Blog writers have a hard time with it.  They write their post, they re-read it, they post it, but things get missed.  I will admit I have gone back and fixed a few of my own posts, mostly because I am not the type to write a draft and revisit it several days later.

The same applies to programmers.  You write code, you edit your code, then you have a code reviewer, which is like a writing editor.  Which brings us to the first trick with editing your own work.

Take a breather…

Set it aside for a duration of time.  A college paper, assuming you did not procrastinate and pull an all night marathon, can sometimes have a couple days.  Manuscripts can have much longer.  When you set it aside, it can be like a fresh set of eyes are viewing your work.  You will catch things.

Find a friend…

To help you look over your work.  They will be a fresh set of eyes.  There is no need for them to be top of their English class or a professional editor.  They will find more things to fix or suggest changes to.  Authors should do the same.  Have other people look over the manuscript.  They can find plot holes and more, and this is free.

become educated…

There are tricks to editing school papers, and there are tricks to editing manuscripts.  There are styles that are different from fiction rather than non-fiction.  I, of course, am a writer of fiction.  So what is my go-to source for help when looking over my work?  A book that, if you are a fiction writer, you need to buy “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.”  As I like to do when referring a book, I will include the synopsis:

Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing.  Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories.

in this completely revised and updated second edition, Rennie Browne and Dave King teach you, the writer, how to apply the editing techniques they have developed to your own work.  Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript.

Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Brone and King have edited.

So what makes the book so great?  It provides great examples, has a reference section in the back, and most importantly, is about editing your own books!  The book has a copyright of 2004 (all content is still applicable today) and there still are limited resources for editing fiction that are good.

There are exercises, with their answers in the back, which help make your brain think in different ways.  When you look at your manuscript you start saying “wow, I need to change this” or “hey, I wrote that pretty good!”  An example exercise:  “How would you develop the following character through a series of scenes?  Keep in mind that the scenes don’t have to be consecutive and that some of the material need not be included at all.”  (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, 2004, p. 38)

Hire an editor…

It can be expensive.  Believe me, I suffer the same issue.  An 80,000 word manuscript can run over a grand.  You can find editors for less, but you need to make sure they do a good job.  You can also barter services.  For example, I am a software engineer.  I could barter web design time for editing time.  Make sure to read reviews on the editors, go to trusty blogs like The Creative Penn or ask other authors who they use and how they thought the editor did and their process was.

Don’t rush things…

That can be a big mistake.  If you rush getting your manuscript out, or turn your college paper in, the same can happy in both cases.  A big fat “F”.  You do not need a professional editor.  Using all of the tricks above with the exception of hiring an editor will get your work a million times better.  If you self-publish, you can always update your manuscripts later if you do hire an editor or catch some mistakes.  Your college paper will probably not have that ability.

Whatever you do, do not say you can edit your manuscript later if you self-publish.  Do not put an unedited piece of junk on the Internet.

“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

You do not want people reviewing “shit.”  Trust me.  Edit it, edit it again, then do it again.  Rinse and repeat.

My editing strategy…

So I will share my personal strategy.  Some of you may think it is ridiculous, but it is the way I do it.  This is for fiction.  Non-fiction I highly recommend skipping step 1 and go to step 2.  In scrivener you can rearrange things to your hearts content.  A must for non-fiction.

  1. Remember Hemingway’s quote.  Write your “shit” by hand, on a typewriter, or some other way where you have to rewrite it.  I personally use a typewriter.  Some writers prefer historic ones, which you can find, I just have a modern Brother.
  2. Edit as you transfer your first draft into digital.  It is time consuming, but you will not believe how much changes.  I also recommend using Scrivener rather than Word.
  3. Take a break.  Start another manuscript, spend time with family, take a vacation.  Does not matter, take a break where there is at minimum one-week where you do not look at the manuscript.  I prefer a month.
  4. Revise within Scrivener, or if you chose to use Word or some other software.  Once done, this is what I consider my “First Draft.”  It is my “shit” that I made better than before.
  5. Wait a week or more and print out, double spaced.  Edit it by hand.  Yes, I am serious, by hand.  Edit it while you are sitting in bed before you go to sleep instead of watching television.  While you are eating breakfast before work you can edit it.  Edit it while you are on the train or metro.  Just edit it by hand.
  6. Enter revisions on the computer and repeat steps 3-5.
  7. Repeat step 6 until you don’t make any changes or make very few.
  8. Hand a double spaced draft to your friends, share with other authors who are willing to review it for you for free, etc.  Find people who appreciate the same genre you have written.
  9. Carefully consider suggestions from the people from step 8.  Ask them any questions you have, such as why they suggested a change or asked what they saw as a hole in the plot.  Have a discussion.
  10. Enter revisions from friends and authors and perform steps 3-7.
  11. At this point I do one of three things.
    1. I hand a copy of the book to a relative who may or may not appreciate the genre who did not read it already.  Typically it is a printed and bonded copy like I discussed in Book Binding Your Own Books.  I will take their feedback into consideration and potentially repeat step 10.
    2. I self-publish the book.  Money is tight, we know how it is.  If a book seems to take off, I will hire an editor.  As a beginning author, this step is hard.  After you have a successful manuscript you can use those profits to invest in your next book for editing.
    3. Hand it to an editor.

Yes, it is tedious, yes it is long.  My editing process takes four times longer than writing the actual manuscript to begin with.  This may not be the case for everyone.  Some people are naturally adept at writing fiction straight to the first or second draft.  Others may repeat steps 3-7 quite a few times.  My current book at the time of this writing is in the middle of step 5, so it has some time yet before it will be available.

Most of all…

Enjoy what you do!  Some people love editing their work.  Some authors have started their own editing business just because they found out how much they loved to do it.  I personally hate editing, but believe me, it makes a huge difference.  Once you publish a book after it has been fully edited, wait a few months, finish your next book, doesn’t matter.  Read your published book.  Then read your first draft (the one on the typewriter, handwritten, etc).  You will puke.