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Advice on Self-Editing

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Jay

Jun 21 2021

3 mins read

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How do you revise? It's a great question, probably argued and debated since Shakespeare first set ink to parchment. There's no one way to plan rewrites, but if you want to write well, it's essential to edit your own words. Hack, cut, cleave them away! Use a bat, use a stick, grab a phone and call Marie Kondo. Whatever it takes to get your narrative lean and clean, the meaning clear and shining.

But how do you organize? How do you make a plan? And how much time should you spend?

Wordloops expert editor Anna Paradox was kind enough to share her advice for self-editing a book:

The main trick to self-editing is to find a way to see the work. It’s easy to stay within it, and experience from the same perspective you wrote in, which makes it hard to review it as a reader might see it. 

The classic suggestion is to let the book sit for a while before beginning to edit. Suggestions range from one day to six weeks… in modern, fast-paced writing circles, for a project as big as a novel, I think one to two weeks is good. 

There are other ways to gain perspective. I’ve had success working through the book to write out its existing outline, or selecting a specific item to watch for (a word I use too often, how I tagged dialogue, etc.), or changing the format of the book. Printing what you previously worked on as a manuscript can freshen your view on it. Even changing font or font size has worked for some writers. Sometimes turning on spell check or grammar check software can work, too. 

There are lots of books on editing. Any might be of use — what I use is a melding and curating of ideas from many authors. And authors constantly absorb writing ideas from their reading, consciously or unconsciously. 


So my advice boils down to this: Trust what you already know. Arrange to gain some distance or a different perspective on the work. Research if you wish. Work from beginning to end, keeping your thoughts to yourself as helpful and kind as you can. 

One more thought — one of the best ways to get a little perspective is to have a trusted friend read the book. Try asking specific questions for best feedback.


Anna's advice applies to all forms of writing: newsletter, article, screenplay, whatever. Trust yourself, get some distance. Find feedback. Be as kind and helpful to yourself as you can.

It'll be good when it's good, so don't give up. You'll get there! Good writing is hard work.

Happy editing,

Jay

PS Check out Anna's amazing blog on first sentences. If you're interested in her editing services, you can contact her at anna@annaparadox.com.

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