Thoughts on revisions and self-editing #amwriting

New and beginning authors often (loudly) assert their ability to edit their own work. If you are “editing” your own manuscript, you have a fool for a client. There is no such thing as self-editing—the best you can do is make revisions and admire your work. For that reason, we need other eyes on our work.

As authors, we see what we intended to write rather than what was written. We misread clumsy sentences and overlook words that are missing or are included twice in a row.  If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.

The first draft of any manuscript is the story as it flowed out of your mind and onto the paper. Yes, there is life and energy in your words, but your manuscript is not publishable at this stage, no matter how many times you go over it.

You need an unbiased eye upon your work, or your book will be published with typos, awkward sentences, dropped words—the list of inadvertent errors goes on.

Every author needs someone to read their work before it is published. Just because I can see six instances of the word ‘long’ in one paragraph of someone else’s work does not mean that I will spot it in my own.

To the author in the first flush of victory, the completed first draft of his manuscript is a thing of beauty, a flawless diamond to be cherished and adored.  It is the child of their creative muse and is perfect in every way.

Let us consider the word ‘that.’ The following passage is from one of my original manuscripts as it emerged from the first draft in 2008, ten years ago.

 Jeanne was not upset over something that he had not done or not said. Now he sensed that it was a mixture of anger, hurt, and guilt that she was feeling.

In just two sentences, my stream-of-consciousness writing included 3 instances of the word ‘that’ and 3 of ‘not.’  Yet, in my own mind, it was as good as I could make it. I didn’t see those unnecessary words.

This is how that paragraph read in my mind and is how I would write it now, ten years on:

Jeanne wasn’t upset over something he had done or said. He sensed she felt a mixture of anger, hurt, and guilt.

I began working with an editor in 2012, and that is when I truly began to grow as an author. Each time they showed me where I had gone wrong, I learned from it and gradually, my stream-of-consciousness writing improved. I use fewer unnecessary words, and my prose is leaner.

Better writing habits are learned over time by writing regularly and by consciously applying the tricks and tips you learn from other authors.

Once your writing/critique group has given you their best opinions on your manuscript and you have revised it to your best ability, you need an editor. Ask other authors who they might recommend as an editor and see if you can work well with that person.

Your editor will likely point some things out that you didn’t see, but that a reader will.  At that point, you might be slightly shocked and hurt, but if you’re smart you’ll consider each comment and make your revisions accordingly.

Once you see your work through someone else’s unbiased eyes, you will be able to take your story to the next level.

The fact is, unless you can accept criticism, your work will never be what you want it to be. You must be open to viewing your work the way the reader will see it. You’re not obligated to follow every suggestion an editor makes, but 9 times out of 10 I make changes along the lines they suggest because when I look at the problem area, I can see exactly what they meant.

Writing seems like a solitary craft, and much of the time it is. However, joining a local writing support group or a critique group will give you a sounding board that costs you nothing, but from which you will reap many benefits.


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28 responses to “Thoughts on revisions and self-editing #amwriting

  1. Such wise words! How crazy making to get to the Launch phase and only then discover that one has a stable of overused words. One is too thick into the weeds to see the trees, much less the forest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I cringe every time I hear someone say they do their own editing. Revision is one thing, and editing something else entirely.

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  3. Good point distinguishing between revision and editing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Connie,
    No truer words can be given to us novice writers. I did exactly as you stated, my first book was not professionally edited and I regretted it. On the third revision, I finally got it right. I not only revised it but it was edited by a pro.

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  5. Alex Page

    ‘If you are “editing” your own manuscript, you have a fool for a client.’

    Hahaha! So true. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on TheKingsKidChronicles and commented:
    Every published work needs editing before publication. Many articles have been written on the value of editing, even a few books. Some indicate an author can self-edit; some say it’s impossible to self-edit. Read the article posted here and do your own evaluation. Reblogged from https:/

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m glad you mentioned critique groups and beta readers, because good ones provide the absolutely necessary critique by someone other than the casual opinions of family or friends. But I actually believe some authors can self-edit. Aside from that difference of opinion, I’ll point out that good editors aren’t cheap. Some (perhaps many) conscientious writers intending to self-publish can’t afford their services, along with cover design, formatting and other publishing expenses. Falling into the clutches of an unscrupulous or merely incompetent “professional editor” (because there’s no accreditation needed for editors) may produce bad or indifferent results. There are a number of options for writers who can’t afford to pay much or anything for the services of an editor. Writing enhancement software is one. Crit groups and beta readers, as I’ve mentioned. Some reputable editors provide beta reading services at lower prices than full edits. Even swapping a manuscript with another writer might work, if both have at least basic competence. It’s disappointing to hear a message that boils down to “Unless you pay for editing, your work is going to be substandard.”
    Like so many other things, this boils down to “Good, fast, cheap — pick two!”

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    • These are all valid points, Audrey, and thank you for voicing them! I do know several authors who feel confident in their self-editing skills. Author support and critique groups are a real boon to the strapped author – I couldn’t work without mine. My only problem with some editing software is that if one doesn’t have a basic grounding in grammar it can lead you astray, because understanding context is still a skill only humans have, and context is so important when it comes to writing in English.

      I do agree that editors can be costly. If one can afford it, a good editor will work with the author, and won’t try to hijack a manuscript. But this beggars the question, how does one find a good editor? I would say to ask the writers in your group who is good and affordable. I have been fortunate in having the same editor since 2012, but I will admit my first publisher/editing experience in 2011 was not such a good experience.

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      • Asking around about editors — especially among successful indie authors — is a great idea. Taking the longer view, one might then at least start budgeting and saving up. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Connie!

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  8. The writing groups I am involved in have made my writing better with each virtue. I love the members of each one

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  10. I like that phrase: you have a fool for a client. Which is why we all need help from our editors. That said, revision (which includes some self-editing even if unintended) is where the best writing happens.

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  12. Editors are so key! As a writer it is definitely important to polish as much as possible before sending it to betas and an editor but you definitely can’t go without a second pair of eyes!

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