Can't self-edit? Me neither!
Personal tales from yours truly, on my writing journey, editing, and occasional outpourings from my brain. You have been warned!
Before you send your work out, you need to have done some editing... I say like it's that easy!
You might be wondering, if I'm self-editing, what do I need you for? And that's a fair question ...
Well, here's the truth: even as an experienced editor, I can't edit my own work sufficiently. And this is the key thing - I can go through my processes (which I promise, I will share with you in a few blogs' time) and I can work on plot, structure, character, line by line improvements until I know the words on the page backwards ... but it will never be enough. Because what I don't, and can't, have is a different perspective.
You can't see the trees for the wood
Or, in other words, you can't see what's not working, because, in your mind, it all works perfectly. You know how it starts and ends and all the beats and nuances in between. You know the journey, you understand the characters. You keep reading because you know the next chapter is awesome (big clue here ... your reader doesn't).
I'm currently working on an upper middle-grade novel about four kids trapped inside a house, where the rooms keep moving. It's the job of my main character (MC) to solve the puzzle and find an escape route. After the gazillionth round of edits, I sent the latest version (sheer perfection this time) to my agent.
Except, one of my characters isn't well developed enough, one of the sub-plots ends too soon and there's a massive info dump during the second half of the second act (where things are supposed to be getting exciting) This dropped the pace through the floor and stole all the agency from my MC (basically another character tells her what to do.)
I couldn't see it.
I mean ... now I can.
Because my gaze has been turned towards that particular tree in the forest. The one that's not growing in the right direction. But in the sea of trees that are my words, it just wasn't registering.
So, should I not bother, then?
On the contrary. There are a plethora of reasons to self-edit, especially if you are going to send your work out to be read by others:
Courtesy. If you're asking someone else to read your words, don't make it hard for them. Be sweet, and run your spell checker over the work, tidy up any errant formatting, and put the manuscript (MS) into a nice, easy to read, font. Make a checklist of things to ask yourself, for example: is your dialogue formatted consistently, have you numbered your pages (in case your reader likes to read from print copy), and checked for repeated words, or those annoying words that aren't misspelled but aren't actually the ones you meant
Self-improvement. Study your MS for overused words or phrases. My 'crutch words' are VERY and REALLY and my worst crime is starting dialogue with: 'So, ...' over and over and over again. Learn what yours are by editing, then get rid of them. Learn how to improve your grammar - I recommend checking out Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty as a great place to start. Improve your author voice by reading aloud what you've written
Getting value for money. If you're planning on sending your MS to a beta reader, Critique Partner, or editor, ask yourself, what do you want them to concentrate on: your spelling or your story structure? Your crutch words or your character arc? Think of it as if you were hiring a decorator to paint your house - would you want to pay them to move the furniture out of the way?
But ultimately, if you're struggling to find your way through the forest of self-edits, don't be too hard on yourself. It's not just you, it's me too, and every other writer out there. That's why even the most experienced authors need an editor.
In the next blog in the series, I'll be looking at some simple techniques to self-edit, with an easy plan you might like to follow. Until then...
Join me next time for more editing chat, and if you'd like free feedback on your first page, click below and say hello
From EmDashED Freelance Novel Editing