A Brief Word from an Editor on Self Editing

Hi, all.

Just thought I would share a bit about editing your own work before sending it off to your editor. Here’s a few simple things that might come in handy in that regard…

  • Don’t use overly flowery language. If it can be said simply, then say it simply.
  • Reread what you have written.
  • While reading, make sure the words you have written actually convey what you really wanted to say.
  • Try to be critical of your most overly-impressive sentences, especially during a rewrite. Sometimes, we don’t want to mess with a sentence that we have a special fondness for, even after the story around it has changed to render it superfluous.
  • Read what you have written aloud before sending it off.

Okay, folks. I wanted to make this post a short and sweet one. I’m sure many of you just take these points for granted, just as I’m sure that I missed more than one point.

How about you, WG2E peeps? What techniques do you use to check your own writing? This editor has to know…

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  1. I keep a sharp eye out for repetitions and eliminate or severely reduce them.

    I often read dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds realistic.

    I pay close attention to my dialogue tags–do I have too many? Can some be eliminated by re-phrasing and using body language to indicate *how* something is said rather than simply stating who is speaking?

    Editing is time for me to refer to my list of points needing attention, i.e., scenes that need insertion to give readers a better idea of the characters’ personalities, change timelines, etc.

    Traditionally, after I submit a book to my editor I work on something else for a few days, then return to the work being edited and continue fine tuning.

    I am essentially ruthless with my red pen, streamlining wherever possible and making improvements, all of which make for a better book!

  2. Julie Day says:

    I use highlighters. First I highlight the different layers of the ms eg dialogue is pink/yellow, emotion is red etc. Then I go through it and add more layers as I can see what needs to be done. Then I type up additions. Then back to highlighting. This time scenes and verbs. You can see if there are any sentences/scenes that don’t do anything for the story, and can see any repeated verbs. This helps me a lot, esp the verbs as I do often repeat verbs. I get my characters blinking a lot.

  3. Monica Davis says:

    Hey Edit Dude! All great tips for the “self-editor”. Here are a few “tricks” I use to switch gears from writing to editing–

    1) Change the font (your brain sees something different)
    2) Edit in a different room/physical setting (from where the writing takes place)
    3) Pull random chapters (out of order) and check for sentence/paragraph/concept flow
    4) Allow time (days/a week) between writing and editing
    5) Edit from a paper copy as well as computer
    6) Read it aloud…if it sounds awkward & you stumble over the words, the reader probably will also.

    • JamieSalisbury (@JamieRSalisbury) says:

      Excellent “tricks” Monica! I do a couple of these myself, but I’ve now added to my list!

    • Hi, Monica.

      Those are great ideas. The reason that I kept the list short was because I knew there would be really awesome techniques from the incredible WG2E crowd. I’m always amazed at the content of the comments. Sweet!

  4. D.D. Scott says:

    I read the entire manuscript out loud too! And wow does that make a huge difference when it comes to making sure my dialogue is snappy and conversational. And it also helps me figure out which sentences need to be broken up. If I have to breathe too much reading it, it gets the ax. :-)

    I’ve also learned that the longer I’ve written (as in the number of manuscripts), the better I’m getting from the get-go. I think what’s gotten me to that point is that a couple of years ago I took a workshop by the fabulous Margie Lawson and began using her EDITS System, in which you do a lot of color coding like Julie mentioned. Now, after years of using that technique, I can “see” the colors (and the corresponding story devices I’m missing like more or less dialogue, more or less visceral emotions, action verbs, etc.) without actually using them. And that helps me balance out my story and keep the pace where I want it.

    Also, yes indeed, like many of you have already mentioned, I check for repeater words throughout the manuscript.

  5. I am a ‘seat of the pants’ writer with only the barest one-page bullet list of things I want to happen in my books, so my self-editing is pretty extensive. I also write epic fantasy in multi-book series with multiple POV characters and multiple intertwining plot arcs, so not only do I have to make sure my plot does not sag from chapter-to-chapter, but also over the course of the entire series.

    In addition to what everybody does above, I create ‘plot cards’ and spread them out on the floor afterwards, pulling out this character or that to make sure each individual plot line does not sag in the middle of the book (or over the course of the multi-book series). With the cards, it helps you visually see where you’ve gone too long between pulling a lesser character back into the mix and rearrange chapters to maintain the tension. It also helps you spot duplication (where you can cut a chapter) or where you need to add one to keep things consistent. I then do a read-through from each POV characters point of view to make sure I have maintained their ‘voice.’

    • That sounds like a great idea, Anna! Thanks so much for sharing.

      It’s interesting that you mention using ‘plot cards.’ One of my all-time favorite authors uses a similar method. He writes/teaches nonfiction, but he actually puts individual sections of the work on 3×5 note cards and shuffles them around for a visual representation of his narrative. It sounds like you’ve come up with something similar on your own. Very cool!

      If you’re interested, here’s his info – John McPhee is the Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McPhee).

  6. Lois Lavrisa says:

    Like DD I have also taken Margie Lawson’s editing course- fantastic! As well as many other classes, workshop, courses ranging from an hour workshop to a week long course – they are all terrific. But nothing beats reading your own work, having beta readers, and a great editor(thank you Edit Dude!)

  7. Lm Preston says:

    Using editing software helps.

  8. I like to print out my manuscript and read it. For some reason, I recognize problems better when I see them in that form.

    • Hi, Alicia!

      I can appreciate that. There does seem to be something different about reading an ms on actual paper. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it is definitely a real thing.

    • Me too! I usually print out my book multiple times, depending on how many editing passes I make. Trouble is, after multiple passes, I usually end up with four or five binders of printed versions of my book. My storage space is running out!

  9. Seeley James says:

    Best education I found for self-editing came from a book by Renni Brown called “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”. It spelled out how to identify and fix common errors.

    Plus, I do everything Monica says. In addition, I try to read something far from my writing style between writing & editing days. Helps to take my mind off my stagnating style.

    Peace, Seeley

    • Thanks, Seeley.

      ” I try to read something far from my writing style between writing & editing days.” – I love this idea. It makes perfect sense that it would be effective. Thanks for sharing that.

  10. Joe Bruno says:

    After you finish final draft:

    First, print out entire manuscript.

    Second, read out loud; to your dog, or cat if you want an audience.

    Put in mail with return envelope. (I don’t like computer editing.)

    Make sure you have proper postage.

    Upon return, read out loud again – editors and or proofreaders can’t catch everything. (But don’t read out load to dog or cat; they heard it already. Maybe a bird would be OK. Fish don’t respond too well. Especialy if they have already been filleted.)

    Publish and start next book.

    Repeat as necessary.

    If this doesn’t work, take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

    • SK Holmesley says:

      Oh, good idea. I like the idea of reading it to the cat. Dogs forgive too easily and wag their tail just because you’re talking to them. I don’t have either a dog or a cat right now, but our neighbor’s cat sits on our porch a part of each day. If he keeps coming back, at least I’ll know he likes my voice or in the case of a cat, doesn’t hate my voice. (lol)

    • Hi, Joe.

      I could not agree more that reading aloud to quadrupeds can be extremely useful. I just have one thing to say. Quadrupeds rock! Excellent idea!

  11. Liz Matis says:

    I print out the manuscript and I also have the computer read the text to me. I also do a word search for my seemingly favorite words like ‘just’ and ‘even’.

    • Liz Matis says:

      Oh yes – and I always read it again after making the proofreaders changes. They can’t catch everything.

    • Hi, LIz!

      I’m a huge fan of using the search function. I use it constantly. Can you imagine how much Shakespeare would have loved to have the ability to search the text of his plays and poems?

      Well, he did more than okay without it, but…just saying.

    • i put in a macro in Word and cannot type in ‘just’. If I do, No! No! No! comes up. It’s quite effective, and scares me every time it shouts at me.

    • I’m a huge fan of the search function, too. One of my beta readers recently pointed out that I’d used, “For once in her life” multiple times throughout my ms. A search of that phrase yielded it four times (yikes!), which, needless to say, lessened the impact of that line considerably. I was happy to ax it . . . three times over.

  12. SK Holmesley says:

    Besides all the activities mentioned above, one of the things I like to do is read the book backwards once it’s completely done (i.e., last chapter 1st, etc.) after taking a break from the book.

    As I go backwards through the book, I ask myself two questions for each character in each scene — who the hell is this and how did he/she get in this situation?

    Since I already know the story, I should be able to remember how the characters got to that point in any given chapter as I move backwards. Because I mostly remember what I’ve written, but tend to forget the thoughts that never made it to paper, if I get to a scene where I can’t answer one or both of those two questions, I know that I have a gap in the plot or action somewhere. If I can answer the two questions, but can’t remember and searching doesn’t produce where the set up for that scene occurred, then I know that something didn’t make it out of my initial outline into the story or that I added something, or deliberately took something out, and never went back to correct the flow.

  13. Definitely agree with Bettye. Just did my final read-through and at least three or four cases of the same or similar words in close proximity. Yikes!!

  14. Lauren Clark says:

    I have to watch for repetitive words and phrases!