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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2012

    Self-editing: what works for you?

    I am a quarter of the way through a second draft of my first novel.
    I am constantly re-reading and tweaking earlier chapters.
    While they are getting better as a result (according to beta readers & critiques),
    I worry that I'm not giving myself an adequate cool-down period
    to really see them with fresh eyes.

    OK, enough setup. Now my real question:

    What works for you? How strictly do you manage your own self-editing?
    What are the pitfalls or advantages of different approaches?

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Central Virginia
    Catchy book titles aside, there's no such thing as self-editing. What you're doing is self-review. Editing is something someone else has to do, because your eyes never can be refreshed enough to totally forget what you were thinking you were writing when you actually were writing something else altogether--or not writing fully or clearly enough to get across what your mind knew it meant. But, yes, giving it some distance in time and other activity before coming back to review it is a key need.

    I don't do too many reviews before sending it out to an editor. When I've worked something over really well, I've beaten the sparkle out of it. I deal with the blind spots when the editor returns the manuscript. But then I review it all again--and it doesn't matter how many times I review something; I also find some other "obvious" error in it that neither the editor nor I had caught before. Realizing that there is no such thing as perfect copy is the first step away from wheel-spinning fussbudgetry.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Susan B's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Scotland, UK
    I'm at the same stage as you, Paul. I have to stop myself from reading over too much of what I wrote the day before each time I sit down to write, or else I get nothing new done. It's very tempting to edit and re-write constantly when you spot something.

    Everything I've read suggests that you keep going, put your completed manuscript away (for two or three months) and then start the editing/ re-drafting phase. This makes sense to me, but I worry that I might not remember the ideas I had later on.

    Ha- I'm sure I've just confused you more! I'm a newbie writer too, so I'm offering support and sympathy more than advice.

    P.S. Another new favourite word- fussbudgetry - is going into my arsenal, along with 'Assholiness' (one from ages ago)

    Edit: just realised I'm NOT at the same stage as you- you have a completed novel!
    Last edited by Susan B; 03-29-2012 at 10:50 AM.

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    My advice on editing a second draft is to have a plan. Sit down with the whole book and make notes. Create a story board so you can see where the pace drags, where you may need another scene, where you may need to rearrange chapters, etc. Then write your notes in a separate notebook (making sure you include page # references) or the on ms. itself.

    Once you've completed your notes, dig into the ms. with specific goals for each session. Example: Today I will tighten the first three chapters by removing passive voice and unnecessary dialogue tags. That's pretty basic stuff, but it really depends on what your skill levels are, too. If your first draft is more polished, you may be looking at other issues, such as deepening motivation, adding more description in places, removing unnecessary secondary characters, that sort of thing.

    But don't obsess over just the first 3 chapters. Keep moving. Otherwise, you risk polishing a turd.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    @ Gary:

    You describe the built-in difficulty of self-review very nicely.

    @ Susan:

    Wow! 2-3 months. That's going to be hard, with my tendency to pick at it like a scab. But I see the sense in your advice.

    @ Jeanne:

    Great advice about having goals for each session. As it is, I tend to wander through the MS without a focus, polishing the same things over and over.
    Great point about the risk of polishing a turd. I may end up scrapping/rewriting my entire current opening, so it's words to the wise (from the wise?).

    Thank you all for your thoughts and guidance.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Herman Munster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010

    My style, or lack of it!

    I write American based military covert spec ops, current time, literally.
    I created a team, a kill team, they kill on more than 50% of the missions.

    What works for you? How strictly do you manage your own self-editing?
    What are the pitfalls or advantages of different approaches?

    First, you need to know ho 'I write'. I get an overall ideal. Let's create one I may have to write yet. I have done zero prep except told the MC, from on high there is way too much cash on an aircraft carrier and they don't know who, how, what, when, why. JAG corps have been to the carrier several times determining other matters, they cannot work out what it is, so now they call in the deep cover spec ops people.

    I have 21 completed books and 29 more started, some 50, 66, 75% complete, others just 3 to 5 k words.

    I, the author have no idea what the outcome or truth here is. I don't think I need to know. Drugs, people smuggling, money laundering, assassinations, you list it, it could be happening.

    Now I haven't started the work yet, when I do I will assign it a title, possibly The Carrier, and a sequence number so I can track several things from all other works.
    Once I commit to working on this book or that, I sit and mull over big things that may happen in the long term, ultimate climaxes and there is always more than one.
    BUT ...
    A scene will materialize in my head in full video form. Could be a minor side issue even b4 he gets, secretly on the ship. Then I take the whole video, basically the screen view and transcribe it line by line. This process may jump to a new plot, major or minor, just what I think up in my sick mind.
    Then I let the fingers do the walking.l
    I add to it. If I put it down for several months I will have to read it from scratch to see what it is a bout, then add stuff.

    ULTIMATELY, if I hit a 'creative phase', then words, plots, action, deciept, killings occur. It might get to 60 k words and run out of steam. Shelve, write another one.

    CREATIVE PHASE deserves more space and treatment.
    ONCE I had a creative phase that lasted two weeks.
    7 days, 6 nights, writing, no sleep, close to no food.
    Then 3 days and two nights. Then 2 days and one night.

    When I did the count, I wrote, 200,000 words, within 14 whole days. I completed one, I wrote two more whole ones and started a fourth one.
    Those two completed ones are the best two I have ever written by a mile.

    If I have 50 k words down and it is languishing, I need to read it from scratch to know what was in there that I needed to tidy up but I never edit as I read. I have been convinced to at least read it thru, edit it, at least one time. I see a value in it and am now happily doing it. BUT, there will always be a huge amount of work for the copyeditor etc to do, cos i know nothing about writing but I can tell yarns.

    The current time is massive pressure. I am having my first book in the series published, ebook and trad. There are just so many to deal with in the publishing house and all protect the actual workers.
    Latest example. "Do you have ideas about the cover?" "Sure, I have some bad drawings but I have no skill in art, so it shows a concept badly".

    I want top 2/3 blood red with yellow title. Bottom 1/3 black, with author name.
    Middle 1/3 is pic, .50 sniper rifle in shadow, head and shoulders in shadow as sniper.
    No details.
    300 words synopsis on the back, no worries.

    They sent me a bad misintepreted cover, where someone said red, black, rifle, man.
    I HATE IT!
    She got back.
    I tidied a coupla more things on my example and resent that.


    Then they sent me the pro shot of my vision.
    My one word reply.


    And it is, it will be the cover to the book.

    But the process had a lot of stress involved in the... everything. Reading and approving the edit- HELL. Everything took me to hell and I lost my creative edge but we are close to publication.

    You asked how others do it.
    Condensed version is I get videos, I transcribe the atmosphere and action. When the creativity fails, I stop.
    Frustration = start another one.
    Writers block I had last year for months, could have been illhealth stress.

    THAT is how I do it. I hope it helps and I hope to someday soon visit the Published Authors forums!


  7. #7
    Junior Member gertegan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    I usually write until I meet Writer's Block, then I go back and edit what I have, which usually sparks my writing again, and continue the process, with the intention of a massive overall edit once the book is finished. Then I'll let my beta reader take it, then edit it again, then it's time to beg agents.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Lea Zalas's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Southern Georgia
    Paul, I do most of my own editing, but one of the best tools that has ever helped me was when I downloaded Natural Reader. Reading the story aloud myself doesn't help me because my brain still skips over the mistakes I made when I first wrote it, and Natural Reader helps me step outside of self-editing (or reviewing) and listen to it with fresh ears. It's a great way to find where I've left out a word, or written a word twice (and and, the the), or when a sentence just doesn't make sense. And it's free.

    I also belong to a writers group, and their critiques helped me find problems with the story itself.

    In the end, I had to step away for several months to clear my head, and then look at it with fresh eyes before I could complete the finished version.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Herman Munster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010

    The duck's guts!

    Quote Originally Posted by paul.abbassi View Post
    I am a quarter of the way through a second draft of my first novel.
    I am constantly re-reading and tweaking earlier chapters....
    Paul, it has taken me some time to work out what I really wanted to say.
    I think self editing is important, even tho b4 I arrived at this forum, I was dead against it. My first instinct to 'read thru' was "why would I read it, I know how it ends"

    Quite dumb I guess everyone would agree. But I eventually got over it and read thru and made some improvement.
    I note second draft, so that half answers my concern. I agree self edit is important but that can, MUST, only come after the book is essentially finished, IMHO. I think you could get grossly side tracked editing stuff that is unworthy, that you may expand or contract as you complete the book. IMHO editing can only come after that. Besides, you have to be able to sit there and say "This is a BOOK of note, I am proud of it" Sort of thing.

    To me the writing of the whole is critical cos until you reach the last word on the last page, you don't have a work or book, and to me, nothing to edit. Sure, if you are bored then run a spellcheck BUT you can't edit anything really until it is finished. Editing is technical and can be done by anyone with that skill. Writing is creation and can only be done, usually by one person on one work.
    I am interested in a collaboration, probably of two but I have no takers yet and no idea what to do, or how to do it nor even if it is worth the effort.

    I have written books I will never edit since they are not that good. I have others, fortunately that deserve the greatest ditors in the world since they are that damned wonderful.
    Can you see what I think I am trying to say? Get creative, stay creative until it is finished then get technical. Does that mean what I hope it means?

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    @ Herman:

    The description of your process had me spellbound. 200,000 words in 14 days is creative indeed.
    As you point out, reaching the end before editing is key - Jeanne made this point also, and I agree with you both.
    I did reach "The End" of my first draft, so have a finished story that I know all the way through and am very pleased with.
    The second draft is about learning the craft to tell that story well enough, so that a reader other than myself can enjoy it.
    In that context, I'm finding self-editing is a learning tool but I do get side tracked.

    @ gertegan:

    What you say makes sense - editing the already-written chapters as a way to kickstart the creative phase again.
    A lot better than staring at the blank page and waiting for inspiration, I think.

    @ Lea:

    Great advice - I'll download Natural Reader and try it. I find reading the work aloud helps me spot errors my eye skips over, so I can see this would be very useful.
    I'm in an online critique group and an in-person one, and I agree it helps greatly in finding story and writing issues we ourselves can't see because we're too close to our stories.
    I've only been writing for a few months, and focused on the one novel, so the idea of stepping away from it for a few months isn't something I can see yet
    - but I imagine it would help instill a fresh perspective.

    Thanks to all of you for your feedback and thoughts on this question - it helps me tremendously to see how other writers do it, as I'm such a newbie to writing.

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