The Writer: How to Self-Edit Your Story
Learning to self-edit your manuscripts will polish your work and make it shine, giving it a professional and presentable look.
- Line Edit
Content Editing: Evaluation of the overall format, by improving accuracy, clarity, conciseness, and coherence. Content editing is the evaluation of the big picture.
Style of Voice Editing: Evaluation of voice. This stage is to evaluate the voice to make sure it consistent throughout the entire story.
Line Edit: Evaluation of the overall language, structure, and style, by improving the sentence flow, paragraph structure, grammar, and word choice.
Opening note to reader:
Once the first draft is complete it is time to edit the story. The editing stage can be tedious and frustrating, but once complete the writers work will be polished with a professional structure ready for the release to the public. Depending on the writer the editing stage may take multiple edits to get a story worthy of release. The point of the first draft is get the story out and on paper, afterwards the magic of editing comes into play and brings life to the story. Some writers like editing and some despise the editing process, but it is necessary part in writing. To release a story before it is edited is amateurish and a sure way to get rejections. The editing process is a long and bumpy road full of potholes, but it is worth the reward.
The trick to self-editing is to start with the big picture and work your way to smaller and issues. Start by concentrating on the overall content, making sure the plot is coherent and characters seem believable, then work on your voice and make sure it is consistent, and then at the finale stage of the editing process work on line edits, fixing grammar, paragraph structure, etc. It is hard work and will take a lot of your time and attention, but don’t give up and get the job done, and you as a writer will have a professional written story worthy of publication.
Stage 1: Content
The first thing required is to get a notebook (or computer) and take notes as you read your story from beginning to end. Resist the temptation to change things as you read. Be thorough, take detailed notes.
A few Content errors to search
- Plot holes
- Chapters without conflict
- Scenes without conflict
- Dull Character arcs
- Inconsistencies and contradictions
- Do scenes or chapters need to be added
- Characters that are unnecessary
- Any idea for improvements
Note: Go over the list multiple times and expand on notes before making changes.
Do not make changes until you are a 100% certain that scenes or chapters will be kept. You may want to delete scenes and characters, and by changing as you go it will clog your notes and will have to begin the whole process again. The point is not to waste time until have read the entire manuscript and come up with a game plan before making changes. Only after you have read your manuscript and all notes taken do you start at the beginning and make the changes to the manuscript.
After you have made the changes, do the process again. Read through your manuscript and take detailed notes without changing anything. Once you have completed reading the manuscript for a second time, access your note and make another game plan (or outline), start at the beginning and edit the manuscript.
Note: This stage of editing may be like rewriting your manuscript from scratch. Also note that each writer is different and the amount of times they do this stage varies. I recommend anywhere from 2-6 times.
Stage 2: Style of Voice
The second stage of editing is perfecting voice. This stage can be simple if the writer already has a strong voice, but if you’re a newer writer still trying to find your voice then stage will be long and consist of a lot of rewriting. As a writer, always remember, a story without voice isn’t a story, but just boring grouping of words. Voice is what gives soul to your story, and I have found in my experience to be the most important aspect of any story. Voice is the tone that your story is told. Every great author has a strong and unique voice.
To start the process for editing voice is to find a scene that demonstrates the style of your voice you want throughout your story. It must be strong and unique, be careful not to emulate another author, because if you do then readers will not consider you as authentic. After you have found the voice try to imitate that style of voice throughout the story.
Note: It may take multiple edits to get a solid foundation for your voice. If having trouble finding your voice rewrite your chosen scene in several different styles, and then pick the one that best suites you. Remember, it must be your own unique voice, and style of voice is everything in a story.
Stage 3: Line Edit
This is the last stage of editing; this is when the writer reads sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph fixing the overall language, by improving the sentence flow, paragraph structure, grammar, and word choice. Line editing will distinguish your work from an amateur to a pro.
This process is slow, for it requires the writer to take his or hers time reading the story. Again get a note book and take notes as you read, without changing anything. The purpose is after you have taken detailed notes is to come up with a game plan, and once a game plan is created go through the manuscript making the necessary changes.
Few Errors to search for
- Emotional expression
- Rewording of sentences
- Sentence structure
- Paragraph structure
- Flow of the story
- Anything to improve story
Note: If you have done a thorough job with the other two editing stages then this stage should only take 1-3 edits.
After you have read your manuscript and taken detailed notes begin to make the changes to the manuscript.
Again after you have made the changes, do the process again. Read manuscript, take notes, do not change anything, and once you have completed reading the manuscript then access your notes and make another game plan (or outline), and make the necessary changes to your manuscript.
As in the other two stages take great care and do a thorough job, stage 2 was style of voice, and this stage is style of the entire manuscript as a whole. Make sure dialogue is punctuated in the correct format; fix grammar problem, sentence structure, etc. Once completed, you will have a professional looking manuscript worthy of publication, and something to be proud of.
Learning to self-edit your work will pay dividends, it is a dividing line that separates amateurs from pros. Editing is hard for anyone to master; it is a constant learning process. It is a skill developed with practice. The editing process is different from writer to writer, each having a different style developed through trail and error. There are many types of editing, such copy editing, developmental editing, etc. Do your research and study, only through trail and error can you develop a style of editing that works for you. In my earlier days when I was first learning to edit I was often confused where to start or even how to start. I thought the editing process was going through the manuscript and correcting grammar, and it was only through study did I realize that line editing was the smallest part of the process, that content and voice where the major parts of editing.
Another big question many new writers ask, “How do you know when you are done with editing?” Well… there is no easy answer to this question. The truth is if you are like me you will always find something to fix, kind of like an artist, the artist is never satisfied with the artwork. It is a hard question to answer, and I still struggle with this problem to this day. It is tricky to determine. But I have found two rules to help me to end the editing process.
The two Rules
- When you don’t want change anything else.
- When you can only think of changing a word or sentence here and there.
Note: If one of these two thoughts comes to mind then you are most likely done. Remember, you are a writer and be true to the craft and yourself. Love the craft of writing and never lose sight of that fact. Editing is complicated and takes time, but it is worth the reward. So, go and be proud, love your craft, and be passionate about your work.