Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Turning On the Internal Editor

A writer emailed me to ask, "I was wondering if you could do a post on turning your internal editor on.  I'm thinking about entering in an original story contest...but you can't have anyone else revise and edit it ... So I was hoping you might be able to give a few more tips on how to do this."

It can be very difficult to switch from creating to editing, and writers always seem to be excited about one or the other. I'm usually most excited about the one I'm not currently doing.

If you're entering a contest like the one mentioned above, or if you haven't yet found a fellow writer who you click with enough to swap critiques, here are some tips for getting the most out of your self-editing. I've done more in-depth posts on these, so you can follow the links to read more.

I think this is the key for effective self-editing. Time away will refresh your eyes and help you discern what's working and what's not. When I finish a first draft, ideally I have at least 6 weeks away from it before I start editing. 

If you can, read your manuscript in one sitting. Keep a notepad handy and jot down places where the story falls flat and needs improving or themes you want to elaborate on or character's who wound up with too-similar names. Watch to make sure every scene is necessary, that the plot is always advancing.

After you've done that, go in and do the heavy revisions - the scene additions, the plot line that needs to be scrubbed and so forth.

With the content edit, you were making sure that everything worked as a whole. Now it's time to examine all those little details.

With each paragraph, you should be asking yourself, have I been as succinct as possible in making my point? Or are you you using 3 sentences to describe something when you only need 1?

With each sentence, you're asking yourself these kinds of questions:

Is that the best possible word?
Could my character say something more interesting here?
Is there a fresher way to describe this?
If I cut this sentence, would it matter?
Does character A's dialogue sound the same as character B's?

The Sparkle Edit

This is the polish. The story should flow and the writing should be tight, but you're looking for things that slipped past you last time. Like those funky typos. You thought you cut and pasted, but it turns out you copied and pasted, so there's now two identical sentences floating around in that paragraph. Or where you have a character stand up ... and then two paragraphs later they stand up again. Or repetitive phrases and words.

More Time

Ideally you would now give yourself another break from the story. Maybe two or three weeks. I'm always surprised what I find when I do one more read-through after a brief break.

Writing friends are invaluable, but when - for whatever reason - you'r not able to have someone else critique your manuscript, the above process should help.

Anyone out there have other tips for self-editing?


  1. I agree, the most important thing (second from making yourself sit down and edit) is to give yourself time away from the piece. I've started editing too soon before and I overlooked things simply because I read them the way I remembered thinking it should be instead of the actual typos on the page. Good advice :)

  2. Haha. This post was very helpful, but I have to admit, I was a little distracted by the cool clock :D. Probably something I would say about editing is that reading it to someone who reads A LOT is always helpful, because you might not be able to have someone edit or revise your book FOR you, but they can let you know if it doesn't sound right, if it makes sense, etc.. At the very least, you will catch those typos better (there's nothin' like reading out loud for that).

  3. Becki stole mine. ;-) Reading out loud is a great trick, though one I have trouble doing with a house full of people that always come up and say, "What are you DOING?" when I try it. =)

  4. Haha. What happens more in our house, Roseanna, is that when I try to read something to Mom, I keep getting interrupted by people who want to talk to Mom about something different.

  5. Thanks so much for this post! Last week out of the blue, I had the thought that I should enter this one contest. Honestly it's scary & I keep thinking I'm not ready and I know I won't win, but I don't know maybe I'll do it. I have some time to think about it more. But I definitely need to do some good editing if I dare enter.

    I'm glad you brought up the too similar names because that's one thing I've been debating in my WIP.  Two characters are Katelyn and Claudia and I'm not sure if they are to similar or not?? I was planning on keeping them just for them draft because I'm really trying to get it written right now. But since you brought it up, does anyone think they are to close for nest friends?

    Actually Stephanie, i love how honest you have been about all you went through writing the Skylar series. Knowing that things can be changed, edited, and improved is helping me push forward and accept that it's not right yet and THAT'S OK!!! The most important thing is probably getting a skeleton of a book and that's what I'm trying to do right now.

  6. I'm in editing mode so I leaned forward in my chair when I saw the title of this post! :) I can hardly believe that last December I churned out the "skeleton" (love that, Tonya)...5 edits later and I'm rereading yet again in preparation for another overhaul or "forest" edit (printed that post out, Stephanie, and read those questions before I read a chapter each night). So this is exactly what I needed today! Thanks!

  7. Thanks so much Stephanie! I always appreciate that you take time to answer our questions and e-mails personally.

  8. I love this editing process. :)
    What I find that helps me edit things is kind of the same thing is as writing, but I put myself in that situation as either a character, or I'm just there. Like I'm watching a movie.
    AND I say some dialogue out loud that seems sketchy and doesn't look good in the story. That's a good key I learned from my bestie/writing buddy Kayla :), if it sounds funny or odd when you say it out loud delete it or revise it. Same goes with the non-dialogue words.

  9. Tonya, I'm catching up on email and saw your question. The names seem a little too close, especially if they share many scenes.

    You never know what's going to strike a reader as "too close." In one of my manuscripts, my agent thought the names Palmer and Jordan were too similar since both characters were introduced at the same time.