Quick-Tip Tuesday: Self-Editing Redux

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David B. Coe/ D.B. JacksonChildren of Amarid, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)As I’ve mentioned here plenty of times in the past couple of months, I’m in the process of editing my first series, the LonTobyn Chronicle. The Author’s Edit of Children of Amarid, the first volume, has recently been released by Lore Seekers Press; I’ve just finished my revisions of book II, The Outlanders, which should be out in early October; and I’ve begun work on the third book, Eagle Sage. We’re hoping to release it in December.

When discussing self-editing with less experienced writers, I often start by saying that the secret is creating distance between the writing experience and the editing experience. Without that distance, the manuscript feels stale, and I’m unable to see the mistakes I might have missed while drafting the book. And, for me at least, the best way to facilitate that distancing is to put the manuscript away for a while.

Clearly, not everyone has the luxury of putting a book away for twenty years as I have with the LonTobyn books. Editing these books was relatively easy because of how much time had passed. There were literally entire sections of the books that I didn’t remember writing. It was almost like editing another writer’s work.

But in most instances we’re fortunate if we can put a book away for more than a few days. I like to wait for six weeks after finishing the writing before I go back and revise a manuscript, but sometimes I simply can’t. The deadline looms and I have little choice but to edit sooner. So how do I create enough distance from the writing process for my editing to be effective?

Again, for me the key is making the writing and the editing as different from each other as possible. I write on a keyboard and computer screen. I compose in my head. And I do just about all of the work in my home office. So, in creating this artificial distance between the two phases of my artistic process, I do things differently.

If I write on the keyboard, for editing purposes I’m best off reading the book in paper format. I know: Printing out our books is time-consuming, expensive, and generally a pain in the ass. But seeing the book on paper, rather than on the screen, allows me to spot things I might otherwise miss.

I’ve also found that changing venues helps me experience the manuscript as if it’s new. As I said, I write in my office, so I’ll read it over in another room in the house. This is a small thing, but I do find that working in different surroundings changes the feel of the book just a bit. I suppose I could go elsewhere to do my editing, but I have to keep in mind . . .

. . . That I also like to read a manuscript out loud when I’m editing. This is probably the most important of the techniques I use to create that crucial distance. When I read my work aloud, I hear things that I would otherwise miss — words I’ve overused, repetitious phrasing, awkward syntax, poor dialog attribution, passive constructions. I don’t need to read in my public reading voice, which is pretty loud. I can read it in a whisper and it still works. But still, if I’m in a public space, people tend to look at me funny. You know, more than usual. This is why I choose another part of the house, rather than another place altogether.

Again, my goal in all of this is to distance myself from the writing and thus see the manuscript as if it’s new to me. It’s a conceit, really. It’s my book; how new can it be, right? Actually, you’d be surprised. I’ll admit that I do my best to build a six week hiatus into my writing schedule so that I can put the book in a drawer for that amount of time. The other techniques I’ve mentioned here do work — reading aloud in particular. But at least in my view, time is essential for giving me a new perspective on my work.

So put your completed manuscript away for a while when it’s done. Read it out loud. Read it off a paper copy in another part of your home. Editing your own work is no substitute for being edited by someone else, preferably a professional. But it is an essential skill that all writers should master.

Keep writing!

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1 comment to Quick-Tip Tuesday: Self-Editing Redux

  • EricJGates

    Whilst agreeing wholeheartedly with David’s recommendation regarding distancing yourself before attempting a self edit, and using the reading aloud trick myself, there’s also another, very practical method to gain this distance and maintain it when self-editing. I wrote about this in an article on my website a few years ago and this is the relevant extract:

    I’ve mentioned the existence of self-editing software before. This is not just a spell-checker on steroids, as so many are, offering little more than your Word spell check. It’s much more and a boon to writers of all levels. It’s easy to use and its job is twofold:

    a) enable you to do a Selfie far more diligently and effectively
    b) improve how you write.

    Check out Stylewriter (http://www.editorsoftware.com/ – there’s a FREE trial of the software too) as a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I thoroughly recommend it. Also the company that produces it not only have the editing software, but a really useful website to teach you, using videos, how to get the most out of it. There’s even a Writing Course. When using the software, remember to switch on all the options, especially things you may think are not necessary such as checking quoted text (dialogue) where you may deliberately break the rules.

    This stage of the Selfie will take time; three or four FULL days at least for a full-length novel, as you examine everything reported (including Homonyms) and make changes as you go along. Save your document as ‘[title] FIRST DRAFT’ – yes, I know we already did that, but we are only just getting started. We won’t move on to the SECOND DRAFT until we finish the Selfie.

    If you want to read the full article, it’s here: http://www.ericjgates.com/TipsTricksSelfie.html