Hey, writers. I’m Cheri, a co-admin over at OKPotato, (or cherikamei, my personal writing blog), and, thanks to Cynthia Griffin, I’m here to discuss the process of self-editing.
For anyone following either of my aforementioned blogs, you’ll have already seen multiple posts on my writing process and a myriad woes. A brief rundown for everyone else: Last year I completed my M.A. in English, Creative Writing, and am expanding on my thesis to finish a full novel. It is a sci-fi dystopia with a kick-ass group of POC women and their token male. (You can see more here. Publishers, feel free to contact.) (Not kidding.)
As a poor, part-time writer, I rely on self-editing for most of my works and a writing group composed of friends for the rest of my feedback. Whether you’re writing a poem, short story, novella, or novel, it is important for you to know how to edit your own work, both for technical writing errors and inconsistencies or problems with overall arcs and character development.
For one thing, the only way to get other people to take your work seriously is to present it as perfectly as possible. No one knows your writing as well as you do and so only you can reshape it with intentions that match your story or poem. The smallest rewording can often change the meaning of an entire sentence
While I certainly encourage writing groups and getting feedback from readers, you can save yourself at least some trouble down the line (when you’re looking to publish) by self-editing early. It may even help you figure out how you shape your story arcs as you go along.
I’ll be showing you my process, which seems to be working pretty well so far, and I’d love to hear about any of your processes in the comments!
Here we go. I call it: The Side-By-Side.
1. Open up your work on the left side of your screen.
2. Now, open a blank document on the right.
3. Start re-writing what’s on the left…on the right.
It sounds crazy. It looks crazy. But it works. Most people self-edit by re-reading their work and fixing the mistakes they catch as they go. It is a decent method, but one that can be hampered by your own superb knowledge of the writing at-hand. As the author, you already know what is coming in terms of wording, pacing, and grammar. This also means that it is easy for your eyes to skim ahead, jumping obvious mistakes, especially typos.
Rewriting as a form of editing helps you slow down and examine what you have actually written the first time. It will also help you find awkward wording as you go, as well as repetitive syntax (This Sentence Has Five Words Example).
The key is to pay attention as you rewrite. You will find the places that need expansion or clarification or the parts you should cut because it’s bogging down the pace of the scene or story. Approach it as both a writer and a reader and I guarantee that this new draft will come out much more polished. It also gets a significant rewrite out of the way, especially if you self-edit chapter by chapter for a longer piece.
Yes, it will take longer than a simple read-through for typos and misnomers, but it will also get you one step closer to a ready-to-publish piece, especially if you repeat this process several times.
Things to look for as you self-edit, besides basic spelling and grammar:
- Repetitive sentence structures.
- Repetitive wording: (“The castle was tall. Inside the castle was a cat. Looming above the fireplace in the castle was a portrait of the castle.”)
- Reader confusion: Is it clear who the word “she” refers to in this sentence? Does an object start in a person’s hand and end up on table in the next paragraph without explanation? Do you mention that a character closes his eyes on page three and you notice now that he opens his eyes on page eight?
- Lack of OR too much exposition. Don’t be afraid to cut if you notice your interest waning as you rewrite a part. Similarly, don’t be afraid to add if you feel a paragraph doesn’t have the right atmosphere or, as a reader, you find yourself wanting to know more about something (although, be reasonable. Not every character gets a long backstory and not every flower petal needs to be described in minutiae.)
The most important part of the self-editing process, though, is to know when to stop and to continue on with your writing (or, if you’re doing all the editing at the end, simply to let the piece be). At some point you will need fresh eyes to review your work, but, by then, you will be able to present them with a work you have carefully edited, and of which you can be proud.
Let Cynthia and I know how you do if you attempt the Side-by-Side process and how it works for you. Happy writing!