What steps can I take to edit my own work?
There seems to be this illusion amongst writers that they are not editors, but they are. At least, any writer worth his salt has spent time reviewing word choices, rephrasing dialogue, and destroying sections of story because he forgot that the main character’s sword doesn’t appear until page 112.
Editing is no fun, and most people would rather detail their car than do it.
My first recommendation is joining a writer’s group. Online or in person, just as long as there is someone to trade the pain and add a new perspective to your work is a benefit to both parties. When starting out, writers are desperate for anyone to read their work and tell them what the reader thinks. The only people as desperate as you are other authors, but this tends to work out to everyone’s benefit.
Now, the truth is, no one is going to spend more time on your work than you. If they did, it wouldn’t exactly be your work anymore, would it? And while nothing is more important than hiring a professional editor (indie) or getting an editor assigned to you (trad), it helps for all involved if you have your work as polished as you can make it before handing it over to the pros.
My editor, Laurel Leigh, has some spectacular advice for writers who are prepping their work for the pros –
1. Have a vision statement
The vision statement of the book helps keep the book grounded in what it is supposed to be. Vision statements are a diagnosis tool, and usually best for non-fiction work.
2. Start editing at the end of the story.
It’s true. The beginning of a story gets worked a thousand times, but the back end gets a tenth of the attention it should.
3. Pick a specific item to watch for and read through for it.
Dialogue, action sequences, looking for how many times ‘very’ pops up in the manuscript. Target areas, it’s more efficient than targeting all the things.
4. Don’t overuse “show don’t tell.”
This was one that I fell prey to. You hear amazing writers say, “Show, don’t tell,” and you want to be just like them. For every Chuck Palinuick out there, plenty of writers use exposition to move their story along and do quite well for themselves. It’s important to show, but sometimes it’s okay to tell.
Self-editing is a must. Even if you hire the best editor money can buy, it’s still their job to tell you what’s wrong with your manuscript, not to fix it. It seems intimidating at first. I mean, for crying out loud, you wrote a whole book, what more do people want? That is why writer’s groups are a must. They’re in the same leaky boat as you are, and they’re just as eager to not edit when they could be churning out fresh word count. You’re among people who get it. Not only that but they're willing to practice their skills on your work for the low, low price of you practicing your skills on theirs.
Just remember, these are steps to making sure your work is polished, not a shortcut to publishing. I cover why you should have a professional editor here. Just because it’s easy to become an independent author in today’s market, doesn’t mean that you should sidestep the hoops of making a quality book.