Self-editing, often considered to be the bane of existence for writers of all genres, is a difficult undertaking. But, whether you are self-publishing, submitting work to a publisher, writing fiction or non-fiction, or even just writing a blog post, it’s an important part of being a writer, that we must all accept.
As an editor and a writer, I’ve learned a few things over the years that I hope will help some of you in turn. Wherever you are on your journey, it never hurts to get a little assistance when it comes to self-editing, even if just to get a glimpse at what the process is like for others. Some of the most important tips that I have gathered include:
Consistency: Check for consistency in names, dates, places, characters, descriptions, and spelling. This is extremely important as readers will notice mix-ups and mistakes right away, and it will pull them out of the story almost as successfully as being thrown outside in -40 in their skivvies. Your readers should never have to stop to question whether something is an error or not. Therefore, keep notes and look closely when looking over your work.
Fact Checking: Even fiction needs fact checking, since there are usually non-fictional ties that weave their way into the story. For example, if a character is riding a horse to a destination, the amount of time that it takes them should make sense based on the distance, the ease of travel, and the greater description of the world. These tedious details are of great importance, since lacking them can cause disinterest and annoyance.
Never Underestimate Your Reader: Your readers can likely put two and two together without you actually having to say that they equal four. If you treat your readers like they are less than intelligent, they will quickly lose patience with you. Try to find a balance between detail and assumption, but never assume that the reader can see inside of your head without a little help. Areas where you notice an abundance of detail or over-explanation should be flagged and reworked.
Break Your Own Heart: When examining your story arc, avoid letting attachment to a character keep you from doing what you know you should. It’s common for writers to love their characters like they would love their own child—they are children of our souls, after all. But don’t let your love for a character ruin a story. Good things don’t always happen to good people. Bad things happen to everyone. Maybe don’t go full on G.R.R.M. unless you really want to, but learn to let go. It”ll hurt, but your story will be better for it.
Own Your Mistakes: Never assume that your writing is perfect. It isn’t. I make mistakes all of the time, because I have a horrible habit of letting writing pour out of me like water from a pitcher, and then a lack of desire to look through it afterwards. I write and edit every day of the week, and when I am at work, another writer/editor and I exchange work multiple times a day. Both of us make mistakes. Sometimes we miss them over and over. Sometimes, even after a piece has been edited by three or four people there will still be a mistake in the finished product. It happens. It doesn’t mean you are a bad writer, it means that you are just like the rest of us.
But the assumption that your writing is perfect, and that you never make mistakes will likely lead to your downfall.
Break Bad Habits: If you have a habit of spelling a word incorrectly, or of using too many speech tags, break it. Writing improves over time, and a good part of the improvement takes place in altering the way that you do it.
Learn to Take Criticism: Relying on friends and other writers is a great way to find out where your work is failing. But, if you can’t accept what they have to say, what’s the point in having them read it? Say “farewell” to your ego and learn to appreciate feedback. Not every pointer has to be sugarcoated. Be comfortable enough in your work that you can be thankful for every suggestion. If you argue every point, no one will want to help you anymore.
The most important part of self-editing is to maintain constant vigilance. Always seek improvement, always be willing to rework. The only way that we improve as writers is to learn from our own work and to figure out how to do better. Be on the look out for past mistakes and train your eyes to mark consistency in serial commas and ellipses points. Know not just your story, but your style, inside and out. That’s what makes a good writer.
What is your self-editing process like? What do you struggle with most?
As always, you can find me on Facebook for a laugh, a cry, or a bit of commiseration.