Friday, April 22, 2011

A to Z: (S)elf Editing

Today's post is going to be a summary of a topic I have already discussed before. The first time, it showed up in a week long series of posts. You can read them here, here, here, here, and here.

Of all the tings in a writer's skill set, self-editing has to be one of the most difficult and demanding. It requires a lot of time and dedication. If you don't follow through, your story can end up looking worse. Some writers, will skip this part all toghter, opting for a professional editor instead.

After you've finished writing and you pull out that red pen (mine is pink, actually) what do you need to look for? I like to do the whole process in steps to make it more manageable. Here is a look at those steps and what they involve.

Step 1: Put the story down after you've finished writing, and don't pick it up again for at least a couple weeks. If you go straight from writing to editing a story, its too fresh in your mind, and you can't look at it objectively enough to see the mistakes.

Step2: Read your story. Highlight spelling and grammar errors, refrencing errors, telling and POV problems. This the easy part, unless you aren't good with spelling and grammar. You can't necessarily take your word processor's word for it, either. Computers can be confused, too. This is a good place to pull out your notes, drawings, etc. on characters and settings to make sure you haven't moved anything around, or changed anyone's hair color.

Step 3: Read through and look for info dumping. These paragraphs are pretty easy to spot. The only thing you'll find in them is a big plain description. What someone or something looks like all together is a good sign of info dumping.

Step 4: Check your settings. Make sure the one's used more than once are uniform, but described differently, especially if the POV changes.

Step 5: Go through and fix all those mistakes! After that, put the book away for another couple weeks or so. Again with the freshness and objectivity.

Step 6: Read through like you would read any other book. At this point, the only thing you should mark is where the story loses your attention. There is something missing at that point in the story, or the writing is flat. Just mark it and keep going, something in the next few steps may be to blame.

Step 7: Fine tune. Look for repeating words and phrases, flat writing (wordy and dull), empty adverbs (usually end in -ly), "less" "ness" and "ize" suffixes, passive verbs (was, were, be, been, etc.), lists, more telling, and awkward phrasing.

Step 8: Check for possible end changing rewrites.

Step 9: Rewrite! Break everything into manageable chunks of data and center all the revisions around the major conflict. Ask yourself is this something that should happen before or after the climax?

After all that, have someone read through it and see if they find any problems.


  1. Fantastic post. You've got some great tips. Putting down the book really does help. I think I have to read through mine about 5 times when I edit to make sure I've got the setting, characters and then the grammar all right.

  2. I just finished my first draft after fourteen months of writing. I never revisited the earlier chapters so the whole book is fresh to me. I can't wait to read it and find out what happens.


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