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Self-Editing Tips for First-Time Writers

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Let’s be honest: Now that you’ve finally finished writing, are you excited about the idea of dissecting your literary masterpiece? Deconstructing it? Killing characters? Rearranging paragraphs? Deleting screens? Following plot lines like rainbows? And, perhaps worst of all, confirming your rebellious nature to the oppressive rules of grammar?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. You’re a writer, but not necessarily a masochist (although I wouldn’t exclude masochism from the equation).

Writers don’t like to edit themselves, but editing is both useful and essential. It’s often during the editing process when you see the true beauty and potentiality of your story.

It’s often during the editing process when you see the true beauty and potentiality of your story.

An unedited story may have the necessary elements to intrigue your readers, but an edited story will knock the breath out of them.

But how do you edit yourself?

In this post, we’ll go over the top tips for editing your first major manuscript.

Don't Try to Edit While You Write

The first tip to self-editing is not to edit while you’re writing. The temptation to correct as you go is strong, but resist. Your first draft should just be about you getting all of your thoughts onto paper. Editing requires a different type of energy. It’s when you examine what you’ve written, through the vantage point of seeing the big picture, and then deciding what compels your story forward and what does not. You’ll want to eliminate all of the things that can slow your story.

On a very basic level, misspellings and grammatical errors will slow the reading of your story. Those must be hunted down and eliminated. However, inconsistent characterization, plot holes, and never-ending scene-setting will also destroy pacing, and those are a little harder to find. However, you won’t be able to correctly identify those while you’re in the middle of writing. You have to honor writing and editing as two separate functions. You’ll be much more effective at both that way.

Take a Step Away From Your Work

Self-Editing Tips for Writers

When it’s time to edit, don’t edit right away. Take a break.

As I mentioned in the above section, editing requires a different energy and mindset. You can’t immediately shift from writer-mode to editor-mode after a trip to the bathroom.

Instead, take a few weeks (yes, weeks) to give yourself the necessary space to shift. It’s amazing what you’ll notice when you take a step away from your work. You gain more objectivity. While total objectivity with your own work isn’t possible, the distance will make your heart more critical.

You may even cringe— embrace the cringe. Cringe always tells you what’s not working.

But beyond cringe, I’m willing to bet that you’ll find the makings of a quality story. And you’ll be better able to see what’s working and what isn’t after a break.

Don't Be Afraid to Ax Beloved Characters

Here’s the thing: The overwhelming majority of stories have one too many characters. While you may be in the minority, it’s more likely that you’re guilty of having a crowded cast of characters. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us.

However, too many characters can drag your story to a grinding halt. After all, once you introduce a character, you have to complete their storyline— even if it’s just a mailman delivering mail. And, what’s more important, not every character will propel your story forward.

Every character, every scene, every action should move your story forward. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. Think fondly of that character and consider fitting him or her into your next story.

You also have the option to combine characters. There are fewer names for your reader to remember that way, too.

When analyzing your characters, ask these questions:

  • Does their storyline come to a satisfying close?
  • Are they necessary for pushing the plot forward?
  • Do they add to every scene?
  • Are they acting in a way that's true to them?
  • Do they read as familiar, hollow, or two dimensional?
  • Are they only serving as a plot device to move the story forward?

Focus on Point of View

Self-Editing Tips for Writers

What’s the number one thing that first-time writers struggle with? Keeping a consistent point of view.

Point of view is the angle in which the reader sees the story. Unless you have a darn good reason for shifting, don’t. It can be awfully confusing for a reader to go from one character’s point of view to another. I’ve seen books that attempt to do this through different color ink, different fonts, or different tenses. It’s a valiant try but it almost always fails. At best, shifting points of view can be jarring for your story and negatively affect pacing— the all-important element that keeps your story going.

When self-editing your work, be sure to choose one character’s point of view and stick with that narrow. You can’t jump from only seeing the world through your protagonist’s eyes to understanding what’s happening with a villain elsewhere. For a thorough introduction to point of view, check out this post: All About Point of View: Which One Should You Choose?

Look for Show Vs Tell

Another newbie mistake is to tell what’s happening instead of showing it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: You’re story-telling, not story-showing.

While it’s true that you’re telling a story, it’s crucial that you do it in a way that shows what’s happening. In other words, don’t tell your readers what they should take away from the scene.

Telling: She was angry.

Showing: She tightened her mouth and took a sharp breath.

As you can see, telling gives your reader the conclusion while showing gives your reader the context. Showing invites the reader to become an active participant in your story.

Read Your Story Aloud

The best advice is usually the simplest, and this one is no exception. When editing your work, consider reading it aloud. Yes, your old buddy, Cringe, will be sitting right next to you, but do it anyway. Here’s why:

Reading aloud allows you to catch awkward phrasing, poor grammar choices, typos, and misspellings. Since writing is usually a very quiet act, reading aloud is a mental shift.

The process of hearing your written words can actually help you see errors that your brain would normally auto-correct.

There's an App for That

Fortunately, you don’t have to edit all alone. You can also enlist the help of smart technology to assist in your self-edit. There are several well-respected editing apps to consider when it’s time to edit, including:

For more editing suggestions, check out this post (along with the comments).

While these apps are helpful at spotting errors in grammar, these apps cannot take the place of a human eye when it comes to editing. Click here to learn more about the different types of editing services we offer.

Submit for a Professional Edit

Last, but certainly not least, remember to submit your draft for a professional edit, too. Because you can’t obtain true objectivity with your own work, you will need the added layer of a professional edit.

We can help. Check out our editing services now.

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