Self editing is a cheaper option than paying an independent. One could question whether it is as effective, but with care it can be pretty close. One way or another your book will need an editing eye. If it is only to take out those silly errors and to clarify through proper punctuation.
Diamonds need polishing to sparkle
Spontaneity in writers is a smashing gift. I’m all for it. The more you shackle the muse, the greater the risk of turgid prose and robot-like drafts.
Where’s the ‘but’? I hear you ask. There isn’t one. What’s needed is a beady eye, yours or a third party’s, to edit out the dross that frequently accompanies such free-range writing.
Happy, outdoor hens lay tastier eggs – but offer sport for foxes. Liberated writers produce better drafts – but need to recognise that what for them was an exercise in creative freedom won’t necessarily delight a publishing house. There is self-editing to be done: the gems need preserving without over-attention from adverbs and adjectives, and the occasional traffic accidents where rushed thoughts have collided in a maelstrom of confusion must be swept up to ensure an easy read.
How Do You Self Edit?
Once I have my first draft completed, I leave it for a period – the longer the better; the brain needs a rest. Returning to it, I invariably find a succession of faults that scream at me from the page. These are the easy ones.
Then I read the thing out loud. More shocks. What previously appeared to read well now comes to frequent halts as faulty or missing punctuation takes its toll. This takes more care to put right, but is a chore that satisfies. The only remaining halts are now those of an experienced driver avoiding suicidal hares in the spotlights rather than a learner-driver’s foot slipping off the clutch. Two ‘hares’ in particular have to be identified, and then shot: the first appear as glorious passages of writing, the like of which few readers will have savoured, the second are sentences or phrases that oddly, look fine at first glance, but slow your reading to a crawl.
Lesson one. If you are ‘braked’ unknowingly by your own writing you can be sure it will stop readers in their tracks. You make subconscious allowances for the piece because you know where it’s heading; your reader won’t. Attend to these ‘sleeping policemen’; iron out the bumps – with a word here or there, or a complete re-write of the sentence. Surprise yourself – it won’t hurt.
Lesson two. Those ‘glorious passages’ that stand out from the page as proof of your talent have to be put under the microscope; you need to know what so caught your breath it stopped you in your tracks. One in a hundred will survive your editing scrutiny, the remainder will need to be modified so that your genius, usually an indulgence with a whiff of conceit, can be subdued and the reader’s enjoyment preserved.
No more lessons, self editing authors are a hardy bunch, but should not neglect to value the services of an independent editor, once their self-editing is completed. New writers invariably benefit from working with a professional editor – even on short pieces. An independent editor can spot in seconds where you are barking, or barking up wrong trees: and good ones will tell you.
Those are my self editing tips and here is another on another on writing in general… enjoy your writing – inside or outside of the self editing ‘tent’.
photo credit: Aaron Swartz mention in page 158 of Lawrence Lessig’s “Remix” via photopin (license)