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.