Editing. Some loathe it, some love it. Regardless of where you stand on the topic, there is one universal truth in writing. You cannot escape it.
What is self-editing?
When we self-edit our work, we look over what was written with an eye toward correcting mistakes. These mistakes can include (but are not limited to):
- Grammer Issues
- Plot Construction
Typos and missing punctuation are problems, but they’re more superficial than plot holes, continuity issues, or one dimensional characters. Let’s take a look at a few key points to consider in the self-editing process.
Common editing areas where authors struggle:
Identifying and tightening loose writing.
Every word must add to the scene. If it doesn’t, it isn’t vital. For example: Jill watched the tiny bubbles flow through the intake tube on the aquarium filter. The long, amber colored plastic looked like a giant straw as it drew in the clear liquid, guzzling it into the waiting, treated carbon rock pouches before it spilled out the other side. As she watched the spectacle, all she could think about was how much she missed Tom.
The description of the aquarium filter adds nothing to the scene. We’re busy picturing what this machine looks like instead of feeling how much she misses Tom.
Avoiding overuse of certain words.
Look through your paragraphs. Are you using the same words over and over? For example: Sweat gathered in beads on her forehead. Her skin was hot and itchy, but she wouldn’t move. She watched the beast in front of her, saw it lower its head in preparation to attack. It’s thick skin bristled as it pawed the dusty ground.
In this example, the use of he word skin occurs twice. The second iteration of skin could be exchanged for the word, hide, to eliminate redundancy.
Avoiding repetition of descriptive detail.
When we write, we may feel there are certain elements we want readers to focus on. Sometimes, we make the mistake of reiterating these details to accomplish this. This tactic can actually backfire and annoy the reader. Why are they telling me this again? For example: Marjorie leaned forward. Her long blonde her curtained her face as she worked on the puzzle in front of her. Justin watched her with a smile on his face. He loved to see her concentrate, but her silky blonde strands hid her face from view. It didn’t matter that they’d been together for two years. He always loved staring at her while she was so sucked into an activity. If only he could see her face.
We know Marjorie’s face is obscured, we know Justin likes watching her concentrate, so there’s no need to keep reinforcing these elements.
Avoiding unnecessary explanations.
If you’ve shown the action, you don’t have to explain what’s going on. For example: Brett berated himself as soon as he realized he’d mistimed his dodge. Instead of avoiding Mark’s jab, he stepped right into it. A loud snap bounced through Brett’s ears, a moment before blinding pain lanced through the center of his face. A second later, he tasted blood as it flowed over his lip from his undoubtedly broken nose. He swore and spat before lifting his guard again. A punch like the one Mark gave could do a lot of damage. The tiny bones and cartilage of Brett’s nose didn’t stand a chance against the force of the blow.
We know Brett’s nose is broken, we know how it was broken. We don’t need an explanation of how the break happened, we were there when it occurred.
Never submit your work to a publisher until you’ve self-edited your submission to the best of your ability. I know, I know, you’re thinking: “If the story is great, they can see past these little mistakes. Isn’t that why publishers pay editors?”
Acquisitions editors receive many submissions each day, many of them poorly edited. If they have to choose between your story and one with a much cleaner presentation, which will they choose? Which looks more professional? Remember, your manuscript is the literary version of an interview. It’s easier to read through a book when glaring errors have been eliminated. Put your best work forward.
Always do at least one complete self-edit after finishing a first draft unless you are one of the rare authors who can edit as they go, or, has been published multiple times while using this method of self-editing.
Every author is different. Some may only need two drafts, others may need ten. Work in the way that gives you the results you need.
Self-editing doesn’t apply to new writers alone, it’s a skill every author must practice, and hopefully, improve over time.
Food for thought. Two reasons why self-editing is important.
- Poorly edited writing is often rejected outright. The editor at the publisher is more likely to put your manuscript down without completing the book it if your self-editing is poor.
- Books are edited once accepted by a publisher, but to get to this stage, you must complete the basic self-edits.
Special thank you to Ezra Solomon for his help with this post.