On editing: My methods of self-editing fiction

“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.”
― Patricia Fuller


Every writer, be she traditionally published or self-published, needs an editor. That is non-disputable.

(Well, I suppose it is disputable, but for any work to be polished, it needs an editor.)

When I say editor, I mean a person other than writer. However, writers can take a few steps to improve their writing before handing the work over to another editor.

For SARAH & KATY AND THE IMAGINATION BLANKETS, I used a three-step self-editing process.

Macro edit: Content

My first step after completing a manuscript’s first draft is to relax and take a few days off.

Months of writing have paid off with a completed book; that merits a mini celebration. That also means the writer should take a short break from the book to “zoom out” and gain a wide-angle perspective of the story as a whole.

As soon as the writer has had a long enough break — be it two days, two weeks, two months, or however long the individual writer believes she needs — sit down with the manuscript and read it straight through. Do this in as few sittings as possible to help catch problems with pacing and how the story flows. (If you get bored with a section that drags on or think the action moves too quickly in places, readers will, too.)

The point of the macro edit is to read for content. Are there holes in the plot? Do main and supporting characters have complete arcs? Do all characters, scenes, and chapters serve a purpose? Now is the time to address those questions. If there are problems, flag those spots. After finishing a complete read-through, go back and rewrite the problem sections.

Micro edit: Grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.

This edit is done after rewrites are completed from the first edit. Keep your macro editing cap on your head in case the newly written content doesn’t flow, but now is the time to put on the micro editing gloves and start sifting through words with a fine-tooth comb.

Unlike the macro edit, the micro edit is accomplished in multiple sittings. This is a slower paced process with heavy attention to small details: no typos, proper use of there/they’re/their, consistent punctuation (go either all or nothing on the Oxford comma; no halfsies), proper tenses used in each scene, etc.

For micro edits, editing software can helpful. In the past, I have used the free version of the Pro Writing Aid. This tool is handy, although writers should be warned to use it with a grain of salt.

(Speaking of a grain of salt, be on the lookout for cliches during the micro edit.)

Pro Writing Aid catches general spelling errors, cliches, redundancies, overuse of words, repeated words and phrases (such as if you start three or more sentences with the same word), vague or abstract words, overuse of adverbs, and a handful of other grammar edits. The program will catch some items it’s easy to overlook (like overused words), but this is no replacement for a personal edit. It works best as a tool to assist micro editing; it should not be the sole source of micro editing.

Final edit: Read aloud

After the macro and micro edits are finished, reading aloud is a great way to catch missed details.

When I read aloud, I can hear how the words flow and catch awkward phrases. I also am more likely to find omitted words, any remaining typos, and can determine how realistic the dialogue reads.

Words out loud sound different than words read silently, so I consider the final edit to be a crucial portion of the editing process, particularly for children’s fiction. During my final edit, I try to imagine how the book would sound if read aloud during Story Hour at the library or to a classroom of second-graders. If any sentences, paragraphs, or chapters read poorly during this round of editing, they need to be changed before going to my editor. When rewriting the content I’ve flagged, I make sure to reread it out loud to make sure the new sentence is a better replacement for the previous one.

Handing over the manuscript

When I am happy with the self-edited product, I hand it off to an editor. This sometimes includes handing it over to a beta reader; my beta reader methods vary. Sometimes I share the text with them as soon as I have finished a macro edit; other times I share it after I have completed my three-step editing.

However, as important as the self-editing process can be, having an additional editor is the most important step of all. The editor is the objective expert who will guide the writer toward a polished, completed project worthy of publication.

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