This article first appeared over at Write Anything.
Congratulations, you’ve done your first draft and have just finished tidying the main grammatical errors within the text. You have cut out words or phrases which may not have carried or supported the main theme of the story. Perhaps you have had the presence of mind to allow your story time to settle, before you read it again. You fiddle with a few words, use the thesaurus to replace some inactive verbs.
Now what? How or what does one do to shape a draft into something worthy of an audience viewing, or to send to a beta reader, an editor or perhaps through the submission process?
Don’t lose heart. Its usually around this stage that most writers struggle with the self editing process. For some, they have little idea of what else to look for, others become frustrated when the work isn’t pitch perfect in the first draft. For many more, the difficulty lays in the inability to view the writing objectively.
No doubt you will have heard the quote telling us that writing is the easy part of the process, that it is the rewriting which is hell. Most seasoned writers will agree that the first draft is not meant to be good. Many grit their teeth and barrel their way though, looking for quantify, rather than quality of words as they go. This is a valid method so long as the second and third drafts work hard on tightening up the prose. No doubt the more attention and focus a piece gets as it is rewritten the better is is likely to become.
The key to self-editing is being able to shift from your creative writing energy and move to the analytical editor mindset.
It takes practice and a hardening of character to separate the author and editor hat – and to understand that each is necessary within the writing process.
One of the best pieces of advice I have been given is not to be attached to my words. This is particularly hard for many writers who feel that they have slaved, bled and sweated over their prose.
Shift your Mindset
- Know your writing weaknesses and be vigilant when self editing.
- Set specific goals for the editor ‘hat’ ( wordcount? structure? tenses? POV?)
- Know the audience or purpose of the the piece you are editing.
- Keep a style guide handy. ( or grammar reference book)
- Take a few days away from the text
- On the first reading back – read it aloud.
- Take notes as you read it; but don’t allow these notes to be the main focus of the exercise.
- Print the piece out to edit. Things look and sound differently when they are in physical format rather than on the screen.
- Use highlighters and coloured pens to mark edits ( or another form which is different to the way you would normally write)
- Edit for a specific time – ie 20 min blocks. use a timer and adhere to it. This will keep you fresh and focused.
- Set editing time away from writing time. Try not to mix the two.
Whilst self editing is never an easy task, it is made more palatable if the writer takes even a few days away from the project and focuses on other things. These days away will allow them to take a new perspective and be able to form a better idea of what needs to be shaped and edited.
Writing and editing are two very different processes with differing goals or outcomes. It its ludicrous to think that a writer should be able to move effortlessly from one to the other without practice and purpose. Shifting from one task to another requires a shift in the mindset. Learn to change hats, and you’ll be on the way to a relatively pain-free final draft.
Image via Wikipedia
This is another in Annies Series of Self Editing Tips. There may be more.. or maybe not….