Updated: Sep 16, 2021
A while back, I wrote a post about why writers need editors. While editors are great at making a manuscript the best it can be, writers still need to have experience editing their work (even if to prepare it for an editor’s eyes). Editors are highly valuable, but also somewhat costly for some. If you find yourself unable to afford an editor, and want to tackle editing your book by yourself, this post is for you.
Editing, for those who are unsure, is the process of changing the text of a book or written work and improving it. This means that editing involves correcting grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And when going deeper, a careful analysis of character, plot, and setting come into play as well. For more academic projects and nonfiction works, style guides, formatting, and substantive editing are used as well.
The “self-edit”, as ominous as it sounds, is quite doable, but it takes a lot of focus and attention to detail. Without being able to be look at your work objectively, you will be unable to make true improvements on your work.
If you have questions about the content of this post, feel free to reach out to me. I’m always happy to help.
“Editing feels almost like sculpting or a form of continuing the writing process.” – Sydney Pollack
While editing may seem like an easy undertaking, there are lots of nuances in the process that you must be aware of. It would be helpful for you to purchase and read books on editing. There are tons to look at in your local Barnes & Noble. You can also look on Amazon for books or even watch some videos on YouTube from Reedsy or others. Just treat the research and resources as a strong starting point into this process.
Editing takes time and patience. It also takes a very strong and solid grasp of the English language. This may sound a bit confusing to you, because at this moment, you’ve already finished your book. You’re a writer, so it should be assumed that you have a solid grasp of the language. However, the English language is quite complex, and editing requires a look at each line of text and being able to say whether a sentence is clear or not. There are pesky errors like comma splices, misplaced/dangling modifiers, and others that can make your work more difficult for the readers. Know and understand intermediate and advanced English grammar. Later in your editing journey, you will need to look at the global aspects of your work (characters, plot, setting, theme, mood, etc.). To address the global issues without distraction, it’s best to make the grammar perfect first.
When it comes to global issues, look at things like character, plot, setting, continuity, and other known areas of your story. Being able to tell a story means that you can identify issues as they come up. Understand the importance aspects of storytelling before trying to edit your own work. Hopefully, before you started writing, you’ve gained this knowledge already.
Beta readers help as well. Have a friend, family member, or colleague read your work before you take on any editing. Generally, beta readers will find mistakes as they read, and ask the author clarifying questions on unclear aspects of the story.
Lastly, the best software is necessary to take the edits seriously. Editors use Microsoft Word and turn on “track changes” to keep track of the changes that they make within the document. If you don’t have access to Microsoft Office, try using Google Docs (which converts into Microsoft Word for you or an editor in the future).
Take a moment and read your book beginning to end. Read the book aloud and make note of any awkward language (dialogue or narration). Take notes of these things to come back and articulate better. You can print the book and proceed like an English teacher with a red pen. Or you can make comments and notes in the margins on Google Docs or Microsoft Word or some other word processing software. These words can provide substance for your next round of edits.
“When you’re in the editing process, you try different things and you get creative ideas.” – Catherine Hardwicke
The Self Edit Process
There has consistently been the great debate on whether it’s a good idea to edit “as you go”. While that can seem smart, there is some danger in this. Editing as you go can deter you from writing further. If you fixate on one passage or one chapter, you’ll find yourself having troubling finishing the whole book first.
“Finish first” is the best advice an editor will give to a writer. Write your entire draft, beginning to end, before editing. Here’s a short list of why you don’t want to edit as you go.
· Sometimes you’re editing a scene that will ultimately be cut in the final draft
· Fixating on one part of the story prevents you from moving on
· Editing is a wholistic approach and should take place once the whole picture is taken
· First, second, third, and even fourth drafts are never perfect. Perfecting takes place during the editing process.
Take A Break
Once you’ve finished the draft, take some time off. This could be a few days, few weeks, or even a few months. The time is meant to bring you farther away from the work, so that when you return to do your edit, you’re reading your book as the reader, not as the writer. When you take on an edit soon after you’ve written the book, it’s easier to miss important flaws or holes in the story. It’s easier to mistake the theme, the character motivation, and other pieces.
Take some time off to really see your story for the first time as a whole piece. Only then can you be objective in your editing.
Read & Mark-up
After you’ve taken some time to rest and recharge, go ahead and print out your manuscript at home, which is best in order to find the initial typos and keystroke errors. For printing you can also choose from FedEx Office, Minuteman Press or another stationary story. Read the manuscript silently, to yourself. If you’re able to, read it aloud to another person as well.
While doing that, mark up the areas on your paper where there is an awkward word or sentence. Just scratch out parts that aren’t relevant, and “clean up” the document before you go on the line editing.
The Line Edit
A “line edit” is called as such because it involves reading a manuscript, “line by line”. After you have printed, read, and “marked-up” your manuscript on paper, go ahead and insert the easy corrections into your document on file on your computer.
The best way to complete the line edit is to make comments in Word or Google Docs where there are errors you can note from the work. Sometimes, it’s possible to correct an issue immediately. Other times, you may want to come back to that note when your mind is clearer.
When performing a line edit, look for the following potential issues in the writing:
· Weak descriptions
· Convoluted or unclear sentences
· Word choice/diction
· Misplaced/Dangling modifiers
· Unnecessary adverbs/adjectives
· Paragraph Structure
· Excessive Telling
· Repetitive or “Crutch” words
· Filler “Thought Verbs”
· Awkward tense shifts
· POV errors
· Character voice
· Repetitive sentences
· Dialogue/Dialogue tags issues
· And more…
The best way to understand how to find these mistakes is by being a strong storyteller and using all the resources available to you to find mistakes. Some are very hard to note and find. Your best bet is to be familiar with the fundamentals of English grammar, formatting dialogue, knowing the difference between showing and telling, passive versus active voice, using thought verbs, redundancies, voice, tone, and mood.
Also consider point of view, tense changes, and any other obvious issues with the specific text on a line-by-line basis. Once you have spotted these errors, you can move on to working on the story and determine whether or not everything flows well together. Find beta readers, editors, and others who can offer an opinion if you find yourself stuck on some of these issues.
Editing can be very challenging and doing the self-edit, line editing, can be tricky. Check out some of the resources below if you need help.
“Sometimes a change of perspective is all it takes to see the light.” – Dan Brown
What I think writers should take away from this post is that editing is time-consuming and that books typically go through nine or ten, or even twelve drafts. Even J.K. Rowling wrote thirteen versions of a single chapter in one of the Harry Potter books. So, don’t give up on draft five. It takes time to get everything just right.
It’s very important to note that editors work to perform line edits in the earlier stages of writing. And then there is a basic copyedit, and when you’re fine to wrap things up, there’s a proofreading stage. Remember, all major publishers go through many drafts and many pairs of eyes are on the manuscript. Don’t feel bad if it takes time. Take a break if you must. Hire an editor if you feel overwhelmed or need assistance. That’s what I’m here for!
Like always, I’m happy to help. You may shoot me an email if you have questions about this blog post, or about the editing process in general.
Reedsy – Resources for writers and editors (storytelling, marketing, and more)
Grammarly – An application that can help with emails to literary agents and more
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne – A guide on the self-editing process
Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies by Suzanne Gilad – A peek into the copyeditor profession. See things on the flip side
Editorial Freelancers Association – A resource for editors and writers looking to hire editors (in case self-editing doesn’t work out)