Editing your work is never easy.
If writing your novel or short story is creatively fulfilling, then editing can be considered a meticulous, soul-crushing grind that comes after. It’s ultimately necessary to make that draft into the final polished work you saw in your mind’s eye, before you send it out into the world.
I’ve written about editing for beginning self-published authors before, but not in any real detail. Since I’m in the process of editing both a novel and some shorter works, I felt like now was an opportune time to discuss the process of editing your own work, and put together some tips.
I think Lord Humungus said it best in The Road Warrior, “Just walk away.”
Never begin editing your work right after you’ve finished writing it. I struggled with this, and had to discipline myself to stop over a period of years. No matter how eager you are to start polishing that latest story, you need to step away from it first. Save the file and close it, throw the manuscript in a drawer, or whatever you have to do to give yourself some distance. Then wait. How long should you wait? That’s a matter of opinion and I see many posts say something abstract like “your heart will let you know when to return.” That’s hippie bullsh*t. My answer? At least 3 days for short stories, and 3 weeks for novels.
There is science behind this, and you literally need to give your brain and eyes time to recover from the immense work it takes to create a piece of writing. Even basic proof-reading will be more effective after taking time away. You need time to mentally disconnect from the work, and come back to it with fresh eyes and some objectivity. Chances are your edits still won’t be perfect, but they’ll be far better than anything you can do if you begin as soon as you type “The End”.
Read Out Loud
This one is much easier. Read your work out loud.
You’d be amazed at how many grammatical and punctuation errors you’ll run across by simply reading your work aloud.
Phone A Friend
Or email, or Skype, or whatever. Just get a second set of eyes on your work. Preferably, this person is an author or voracious reader, as they’d be more likely to spot errors and grammatical foibles while proofreading your work.
Make sure you really trust this perosn. Ideally, you’ve already run through the piece yourself at least once, and caught the really glaring problems. However, it’s up to you to set boundaries on whether they should simply be doing “line edits” (marking mistakes with a red pen) or “content edits”, where they give you feedback and constructive criticism. Are you ready to handle a critique?
Don’t Cross The Streams
Here’s another one I have a terrible time with. I open a file back up on my computer, and I see things I want to edit. Typos, word choice, punctuation errors, and all manner of other things. You must resist the urge to start editing “mid-stream” during the writing process. It’s a slippery slope that will turn a fruitful writing session into an intense editing exercise in a matter of minutes. That can snowball into re-writes, self doubt, and potentially unlocking your inner critic. No one likes him, so avoid him like the plague until your draft is done.
This is another one that takes a lot of practice. I always read my last few paragraphs to re-find my place before I begin a writing session, and I force myself to compartmentalize edits so I can just take a few seconds to get caught up and begin pushing forward. It’s tough, but ultimately benefits you in the long run.
Those are all the editing tips I can think of right now. I have to admit that I enjoy the editing process, in a sick, sadomasochistic sort of way. It’s the technical side of the craft, and while it can be complex and frustrating it ultimately makes you a better writer. Outside of hiring a professional editor, which many of us cannot afford, it’s something every self-published author needs to practice and employ to improve the quality of their work.
Do you struggle with editing your own work? What are some things that help you through the process? Share your thoughts in the comments!