Editing your own writing

If you want to publish and you can afford it, you should employ a professional editor for your work. A good editor doesn’t rewrite, a good editor will work with a writer to get the best from that writer.

But not everyone can afford to pay the cost of a professional editor.

If you can’t afford an editor, and you don’t have any friends or family who can give you useful, honest criticism and feedback on your work, you are left with the reality that you must edit your own work.

Writing is rewriting

Editing your own work is challenging but rewarding.

Editing your own work is challenging but rewarding.

“Writing is rewriting” wrote Richard North Patterson. This is true. A first draft is never the best it can be. Never.

Editing your own work is very challenging as many writers put a lot of work into their first drafts and find it difficult to delete or change what has taken them so long to create. It takes significant discipline to be able to do it, but your work will be better for it.

To edit your own work you must read your work through someone else’s eyes, distancing yourself as author from the work, so that you can understand it as a piece of writing rather than as a piece of yourself. Yet, while you read it through someone else’s eyes, you must ensure that you stay true to your own voice and what you want the piece of writing to achieve.  This delicate balancing act is difficult but possible.

Tips to editing your own writing:

  • Wait – sometimes putting your work away for a month or more can help you distance yourself from the work.
  • Focus on individual aspects – go through your work in its entirety focusing on certain aspects only – eg are there too many adjectives? Do you tell, not show?
  • Read your work through someone else’s eyes – read the work front to back without making any changes. How would you feel about the work if you hadn’t written it? What are its strengths, its weaknesses?
  • Rewrite whole paragraphs or chapters – is there a paragraph or even a chapter that just isn’t working? Instead of changing a sentence here or there, think about what you want the chapter or paragraph to achieve and completely rewrite it. Don’t copy anything from the first draft. Is the rewrite better?
  • Don’t be lazy – when you read something that you know isn’t working, and you know that to fix it you will need to do a complete rewrite, or put in a lot of time and effort, it’s easy to put it aside. Don’t. Do it now. Get started. It’ll be hard and time-consuming, but it’ll be worth it.
  • Change your characters’ names – this is an odd idea but sometimes as writers we get so attached to our characters that we find it hard to edit them. By changing the names of your characters it is easier to distance yourself from the manuscript. Do a quick find and replace of character names and sometimes it can even feel like a completely different piece of writing.
  • Don’t be afraid to delete – if there are sections of your manuscript that just aren’t working, don’t be afraid to throw them away. Look at the section and decide what aspects of it are critical to the story. Can you incorporate those elements somewhere else and throw the rest away? Does that improve the flow?

The more you do it, the better you get

The more you edit your own work, the better you will get at at it and the easier it will be. You will also probably find that your first drafts get better as you can implement many of your editing strategies while you write leading to better drafts and better writing.

Editing your own work is not easy, but nothing worth doing is. Stay focused, be disciplined and trust your instinct.

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