Tips for Self-Editing

I will be the first to admit that editing is the area of the writing process where I could use the most improvement, I’m either too critical in which case I can turn ten pages of my own work into a few scared pieces of punctuation or I’m too forgiving because I like a particular scene or turn of phrase in which case the mediocre can make it through an edit. So because I’ve never been good at self editing I decided to research ways to get better, little tips that could make it easier and now I’ve decided to pass the fruits of that labour on to you.

  • Get it down. Perhaps the lost obvious and overlooked tip I can share with you is this, get something down first and then edit, I used to write loads and loads but I’d edit as I was writing and it really impacted my enjoyment of the writing process and meant I lost a lot, 1000 words quickly turned into 500 which halved again and again until a days hard work was wasted. Sure not everything you’ll write will be great, but write it first and you can always edit later.
  • Make copies. Always think of editing as an improvement process. You need a ‘before and after’ so you can show progress. So make sure to make a copy of your WIP before editing so that you can see what’s changed and maybe even with reflection what might be salvaged.
  • Send in the Clones…or Don’t. So I was talking about copies up above, the editing process gives you the perfect chance to weed out another type of copy…in this case repetition. I know one writer who claims they use the phrase “and he shrugged his shoulders” so much it makes his main character seem like a really non committal piston. So yeah, while you talk and write in a particular way, you need to be wary of peppering your work with too much repetition. This is particularly valid if it pertains to dialogue, most characters shouldn’t sound the same so if they all keep using the word “ludicrous” just because you yourself like it then maybe that’s something you should edit.
  • Pencils have Erasers. I’ve talked above about not just getting rid of everything, I know how easy it can be on reflection to think nothing is worth saving and sure Pencils have erasers but using it all the time is a sure fire way to ruin a good pencil. Instead. Make the editing process just that…a process. Go through once and pick everything that you are for sure going to keep (even if it needs a little tidying up), then do the same except pick out the maybe (parts that you aren’t sure about or that would require extra work to make work) and finally go through and pick out parts that are not making it to another draft. Now highlight each in a different colour, green, yellow and red work well respectively for me but it’s up to you. Now you can literally see what does and doesn’t work. It will make your writing process a whole lot more cohesive because you start to see exactly what the problems lie, and also you can see at a glance what parts are good as well.
  • Change things up. As well as breaking it into sections as suggested above, I also advise changing up things for the editing process. Maybe take a few days before editing so you come at it from a different mindset or change the font and size, from writing to editing so that the stark contrast makes you read more closely, or even just read it aloud so you can easily find the parts that run too long or don’t read as well as you thought.

    So those are just a few tips to try and help you get through the self-editing process. But remember that even if it seems difficult it’s part of what will one day get you published so don’t fear the edit, instead embrace the idea of making your work the best it can be so that everyone will love it as much as you do.
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