How to Prepare for Self-Editing

self-editingWhat is Self-Editing?

Self-editing is preparing your written work to be the very best it can be–before you pass it on to an editor, agent, or publisher. Ideally, you will self-edit, then get input from fellow writers and beta readers, then self-edit some more, based on their input. Next, you will have a professional editor go over your work and help you improve it even more–from the “big picture” level, through the chapter, paragraph, and sentence levels, and right down to the word/proofreading levels. Throughout this process with an editor, you will continue to self-edit as your editor gives you advice. And then it will be time to send your work to an agent or publisher–and usually that will result in more editing and self-editing. If you are planning to self-publish, you will want to self-edit, and have an editor work with you, to create a self-published work that is just as polished as a traditionally published work!

Why Should You Self-Edit Before Hiring an Editor?

  • Self-editing is a great way to improve your writing skills. Get a good style manual suited to your genre or subject area (for example, for novel writers, The Chicago Manual of Style, or for research writing, The MLA Handbook. Or for a good “textbook” approach, consider The Copyeditor’s Handbook. Yes, they are “fat” books, and might seem intimidating, but once you study them (and then keep them handy for quick reference), you’ll be amazed at how much your writing skills improve.
  • Self-editing will save you a lot of money and time when you’re ready to work with an editor. “Little mistakes” can easily cause your manuscript to be rejected out-of-hand by agents or publishers, and even freelance editors may well send your manuscript back and encourage you to self-edit first. Even if they do accept your manuscript as is, those many errors can cost you a great deal more in editing. Fix them first!
  • By reading through your manuscript several times, and making needed changes, you can assure yourself that you have written with your audience and purpose in mind and that your voice is clear throughout. You are the one who knows why you are writing and to whom you are writing. If the manuscript doesn’t clearly show these things, your editor may end up suggesting changes that aren’t what you intended for your work.

How to Prepare for Self-Editing:

  • Read widely in your chosen genre or field, and aim to produce a work whose quality compares favourably with the best writers.
  • Constantly learn and practice to improve your writing, before you even write, self-edit, and submit to an editor. Then be prepared to take the advice of your editor, and rewrite as much as is needed.
  • Save yourself a lot of self-editing work later on by creating a plan first—a traditional outline, graphic outlines, or at least some brainstorming and picking out what will work best for your work, overall.
  • Before even writing, be very clear on your audience, purpose, genre, and so on–and keep those things in mind as you write.
  • When you are doing your own editing, it is essential to review your manuscript as if you were not the person who wrote it. Be as objective as you can; pull away from your emotional attachments to the piece. Try not to be self-indulgent and lose your objectivity.
  • Let your imaginative, creative, spontaneous, impulsive right brain (that delivers the writing) write the first draft. Then your methodical, detail-oriented, objective inner editor left brain (which crafts and perfects the writing) can step in to do self-editing after you’ve had a few days, weeks, or even months to gain emotional and intellectual distance from the first draft. Do other writing meantime.

Some General Self-Editing Tips:

  • Before you get into the details of self-editing, look at the big picture. For example:
    • Cut out irrelevant or repetitive information. “Kill your darlings.” Often, cutting a third or more of your original draft will create a much better manuscript.
    • Make sure the storyline is logical.
    • Figure out what you’ve missed (those “plot holes”).
    • Ensure you’ve stayed on-target with your audience, purpose, point of view, and voice.
    • Move around paragraphs or chapters that aren’t in the best order.
  • When you have the “big picture” sorted out, then move on to self-edit chapters, paragraphs and sentences. Finally, you can work on individual words and details like spelling, punctuation, and grammar. There is no point in getting those small details just right and then having to do big picture changes that make those proof-reading edits irrelevant because you’ve had to toss out a lot of your original writing.
  • For specific ideas, read my posts on Self-editing Tips and Tricks and Self-Editing Mechanics.

For more information on self-editing and editing, see my list of posts on Writing and Editing.

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