Today, I’m officially going rogue and stepping out and voicing my feelings about editing. I’ve sat in the background and grit my teeth for some time about the things people tend to say about self-editing. Most notably that no good author would ever relay on self-editing and publish a good book. That’s a big statement isn’t it? That no author has the skills to see through their own story and actually polish it without the help of an editor? And authors are merely people who have creative skills and no technical skills? I disagree wholeheartedly, and today I’m going to address that stigma, along with some pointers about the process.
Is self-editing for everyone? No. Absolutely not. But I do believe that there are authors out there self-editing successfully, and who will absolutely not admit it due to the stigma associated with it. I don’t think this is a skill one simply has, but has to learn from reading other novels, marking them as an editor, and then working with an editor to learn the skill. The very thing that people say is the reason you shouldn’t self-edit, is one of the reasons you can do it successfully. You know your writing and you know your habits. This isn’t enough, though, you need to acknowledge what of these is bad and can be better. In order to self-edit effectively, you need to remove the ‘my book is my baby’ thought from the scenario. If you cannot do this, then it is completely better that you let someone without that attachment edit your book. If you can’t relinquish the parenting rights to your novel, you can’t be honest about things that suck, or things that are good but are not right for this particular novel.Years ago, I didn’t have the ability to critique my own writing outside looking in, and I know there are many people who simply don’t have that ability. The first editor I hired helped me to hone this skill, because I watched what she did and took notes. There was actually a whole chapter that this person simply wrote the words “NO” on it. They didn’t tell me why, they simply said NO, and I had to figure out exactly what was wrong with that chapter. That’s when I began to honestly critique my own work. A part of the self-editing process has to be to completely remove yourself from your novel, but beware this has unintended consequences. I’ve become so good at removing myself once a novel is done that I find it incredibly hard to write serial novels. Once I finish a book, I am fine moving on completely. I don’t hold an emotional attachment to my characters or the content itself. This may sound cold, but it allows me to look back at my work and easily delete entire chapters. I simply click select all and delete, and I don’t panic over it. I’ve even learned to do it with chapters that I feel are well written but don’t match the flow of the novel.
That’s the key secret to this, you have to be completely honest with yourself when you self-edit. You may delete garbage, or something beautiful that just doesn’t fit, and you have to be willing to do that. If your work is your baby, you will need an editor to force your hand. While every author will have to self-edit to some degree, many will not be able to solely count on being able to do so for this very reason.
In the event you’ve successfully removed yourself from your novel and are ready to be honest with yourself, you’ll also need a change in mind set. You need to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like an editor. You know your shortcomings. You know you use -ly too much, or you have a love of the word chagrin, or that you often type coach instead of couch. This means you’re ahead of the game of an editor who doesn’t know you and has to spend time adapting to and learning your strengths and weaknesses. You can straight off use the magic Word machine to search and see how many times you use chagrin, or -ly and you can get rid of those things. The next step is to truly be your worst critic. Be of the mindset that plot holes are everywhere and that readers question everything. Look for them, and honestly admit when they’re there.
Consequently, there are many who believe that what I’ve explained cannot be done “your brain just simply won’t allow for it– you know what it’s supposed to say.” I think to some degree every single person’s brain does this — it does it to editors too. You know why I know this? There are major published books, and even indie books with ‘official’ editors that have errors. Why? It’s that age old tale, where if I type words backwards your brain still reads it correctly. Type in the words your brain can still read this into your favorite search machine– you’ll see exactly what I mean. Granted, these are over exaggerations of what I’m alluding to, but I think you get my point. Even editors make errors. Absolutely no book is free of errors, and I certainly agree with the idea of copy-editing many many times over.
Now that you’ve learned your fatal errors, know your style and are ready for those plot holes you can effectively edit as you write.
Yes, I said it. Edit as you write. I’m not saying you won’t have to edit a novel once it’s complete. What I’m alluding to is the fact that you can hone your skill as a writer so that you aren’t editing so much once you’ve completed a novel. You can rid yourself of bad habits and stop yourself when you begin to fall into them again. I know many disagree with this sentiment, but they may also believe in the ideology of writing everyday even if it’s garbage. I don’t agree with that one either (like I said, I’m rogue).
Overall, self-editing is not an easy process, and it’s certainly not for everyone. I think it’s rare for an author to truly be open enough to honesty critique themselves, but on the other hand, I know that editors can try to change an author’s style and are sometimes out of reach cost wise. Which leads to the fact there’s a bazillion books out there that say they can help self-edit you into print. My opinion, those of an editor, or the writer of a self-edit book should be taken for what they are –opinions. In the end whatever approach you choose to editing just be true to who you are as a writer and don’t let anyone change that. No one knows your writing as well as you do, and while traditionally this is viewed by anti-self-editors as a fatal fault, I truly believe this can be a strength if used properly.
And of course, beware of plot holes. They’re everywhere…