Last week or so (time means nothing to me anymore), there were a lot of posts going around about paying for edits and how it is so crucial to not bankrupt yourself for the sake of publishing, so I thought it might be a good time to go through some of my personal self-editing process to take some of the weight off the costs of edits.
Though I will always hold that it’s in any writer’s best interests to have a professional go through your work for content/line edits, that’s not necessarily where you need to start. Make use of critique partners and swapping work, and get a solid handle on self-editing.
None of this is always easy. Unless you’re one of those people who derives enjoyment from deconstructing all of your work (Hi!), the task can be overwhelming or boring or, *gasp* you skip that part.
Critique partners are fantastic, but it can be a challenge to find someone who delivers feedback in a way that meshes with your preferred way of receiving it, or who delivers on time, or who knows enough themselves to point out the relevant weaknesses.
I have a wonderful critique partner. I’m sure we curse and swear at each other over the interwebs, but by the time I finish making my revisions based on her feedback, I know I’m walking forward with a stronger book.
She’s not where I start, though, and my self-editing process has changed significantly over the years. Heck, I would say it’s changed significantly over the last year.
When I first started publishing, my editor at the time (and now my editor again, huzzah!) sent me a gift that has remained at the heart of my process. Susan Bell’s book The Artful Edit gives a fantastic and thorough breakdown of each layer to be considered during edits, from a macro and a micro level. Things like character, plot, conflict, theme, and working down to line edits.
In fact, thanks for the reminder me, I’m going to re=read this book to get a refresher on some of these things now that more of my system has changed.
One of the most common tips you’ll hear is to set your book aside and walk away for two weeks or two months or two years. Give it some time to breathe and distance yourself from it.
This is pretty great and necessary advice. If you jump right back into edits the moment you finish, you’re not going to see what might be missing. Your head is still going to be in the story, where you already know what’s supposed to be there.
It can be hard to set it aside though, so my way of forgetting about it is to draft another book (she says, somewhat facetiously).
When the time has past, my next step is get out a notepad and start reading. Ideally in a format where I can’t make any changes. I don’t want to be nitpicking at things just yet. Turn a blind eye to the typos and awkward sentences. At this point, it’s all about the big stuff.
I go chapter by chapter and take note of everything that needs to be changed. I treat myself as my own alpha reader, giving myself feedback in the way that will most help future me. I flag places where motivation is weak, where emotions are missing or where conflict needs to be tightened up. I can get a big-picture look at my story arc and make sure that all that necessary beats stand out with as much oomph as possible.
Obviously, this can’t all be done in one pass, which is why I do fifteen of them with various depth of focus, but with my most recent round of edits, I found this made a huge difference. I was able to rewrite full chapters knowing what I needed to hit instead. My character development is more consistent and my plot a bit less saggy in the middle.
I have one more major round of revisions to go before it goes to my critique partner, and at that point I know I won’t really be able to see anything else for myself. The rounds of self-edits would be endless, constantly wondering and tweaking and nitpicking to the point where the book can never be released, which is why, for me, it’s critical to have someone waiting to get their hands on it.
What are your self-editing habits? What have you found that works or what doesn’t?