Self-editing: What are your options?

Self-editing: What are your options?

Writing a novelYou’ve finished the first draft of your novel, now it’s time for revisions. We know that you’ll need a professional editor soon, but before that, what can you do on your own? Revisions need to start somewhere, so here are a few options for editing your own work:

  1. Take a break – this is important for any writer to remember. After you write that first draft, give yourself time to put a little distant between you and that crazy journey of writing you just took. I recommend a month or longer, if possible, but at least 2-3 weeks. You want to allow your eyes and mind to refresh. When you return to your work again, you’ll be able to see more than you could before.
  2. Read your writing out loud – I go into detail about this on a past blog post, but this is a very important step. I recently did this with my own work and was blown away at not just sentence flow that needed work, but also I found my own interest waning in certain sections and I didn’t want to be reading those pieces aloud anymore. This is a great way to tell what is working and what needs some fine-tuning.
  3. The Shrunken manuscript – I heard about this recently on a Write to Done guest blog and loved this idea. The idea is to reduce the font size and white space of your MS so you have each chapter fitting on 1-2 pages, then you print the entire thing out so your now 200 page MS is 30 pages, then lay the 30 pages out on the floor in front of you. This way you can see all the chapters before you and begin to notice character patterns, plot points, etc.
  4. Read your MS slowly and critically – It’s easy as the author of your work to skim sentences because you know what’s next, but I encourage you to read the MS in full slowly and carefully. Really take your time and be sure you are reading every word, every dialogue section, and look at your work with a critical eye. This is another insurance that you are catching all the errors you can before sending to an editor.
  5. Writing groups – Join a writing group, whether local in person or virtual, and share your work with the group. Find a group that truly supports one another and offers constructive criticism. They are out there, and they are immensely helpful. Don’t limit yourself to a group only in your genre either – getting the opinions of writers from all genres and writing forms will offer a variety of opinions and insight.

Self-editing is a very important part of the editorial process, however keep in mind this doesn’t replace the work of a skilled and professional developmental editor, copy editor, and proofreader. Maximizing your own editing process will be better for you and for your editors because the more errors and story flaws you leave for an editor that you could have address on your own means their time is being spent fixing or working on those items instead of diving in to the nitty gritty.

How has self-editing helped you? Do you find the editing process teaches you new things about your  writing each time? 

Be sure to read the related article: 7 Steps to Take After Writing Your First Draft.

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About Katie McCoach

KATIE McCOACH is a developmental book editor at KM Editorial, LLC working with authors to help them create their best story! Be sure to follow her on Twitter @KatieMcCoach.

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3 Responses to Self-editing: What are your options?

  1. Ryan Lanz March 12, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

    Hi Katie! Per your earlier permission, I scheduled this article to be featured as a guest post on on April 4th. As usual, it has your credit/bio/link. Thanks!

  2. Jon Simmonds March 21, 2014 at 3:42 am #

    Every round of edits brings something new with it. Generally I find I can only concentrate on a set number of topics each time, so I’ll end up editing once for dialogue, pacing etc. Then another edit for adverbs, plot holes, consistency. Then maybe depth and richness of narrative (colours, sounds, smells etc.)… The danger is that it becomes never-ending, which is partly why the novel is still at ‘final’ MS stage. But it’s a fantastic learning process as well.

    • katiemccoach March 21, 2014 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Jon, that’s a great point and I think a struggle of many writers. At some point you have to be able to say “okay, that’s enough,” but the goal of working and revising until you’ve created a product that is the best version it will be is great, and it’s what every writer should strive for. It sounds like you have a good self-editing system! Best of luck with your MS. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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