Avoid Mistakes When Editing Your Own Work – Part 2
In part 1, we looked at some of the common mistakes writers make when they try to edit their own work, simply because they don’t understand the processes that editing entails. It’s important to point out that self-editing isn’t about being an expert. Self-editing is about the kind of collective things to look out for when reading and redrafting your work, so let’s look at some other common errors.
This is the stage most writers often skip over, without taking proper time out and without doing a full read through of the manuscript. They write the first draft, edit as they go, then do a second draft and hey presto, their perfect, brilliant novel is ready for the masses.
Except it isn’t.
Redrafting is the next stage on from the read through, where all the notes from the read through are translated to the manuscript. Redrafting shouldn’t be confused with actual editing. They are two separate processes. The redraft allows the writer to tweak the manuscript, correct some of those obvious mistakes and flaws and tidy the grammar and punctuation etc., ready for the next read through.
There are lots of read-throughs for a very good reason. And this is the stage writers just don’t bother with. But it’s important if you want to learn how to edit your work and understand more about your own writing, because the more you read your work, the more aware you’ll become of those strong and weak areas.
When the redraft is complete, leave it for a week or two, ready for the actual edit.
One Edit is Never Enough
Most beginners assume that once they’ve edited their manuscript, then it’s completed and ready to publish. But one edit is never enough. It’s delusional to think otherwise. Even the best writers know one edit is never enough, because it’s not possible to spot the more difficult or technical mistakes, much less every single common one.
Anything less than three edits means the writer must be a genius. Just about every novel will go through numerous edits before it’s even considered ready. And that doesn’t account for edits carried out by professional editors or publishing house editors
Generally speaking, four or five edits is normal. Some writers like six edits. Others go for more and there is a danger that the novel could be over-edited and therefore spoiled, if the work extends beyond seven edits. That’s because the writer has changed the fabric of the story too much. Be careful not to over-edit.
For those who are not so confident with self-editing, a couple of edits is reasonable before it goes to a professional editor to do the rest.
Don’t Rely on Spell-Check
All writers should have a reasonable grasp of grammar and punctuation and a good vocabulary, but almost every writer has come to rely on computer-based spell checkers. But everyone’s ‘go to’ for checking spelling isn’t the most reliable, and that’s because it isn’t human. It’s a program.
Try writing its and it’s in a sentence, and Word will confuse itself. It has problems recognising correct verb usage, it cannot distinguish between some verb variations, it loves to capitalise come words when they don’t need it, and doesn’t correct it when it does. The same is true for other spell checkers. They are not reliable beyond simple spelling.
If you’re unsure, look up words and meanings in a dictionary or consult a grammar guide.
This is quite possibly the worst mistake every writer makes when trying to self-edit. Everything must be completed at breakneck speed. They write the novel in weeks, they do one edit in a matter of weeks, they don’t read through it properly, and they rush it into the self-published world and wait for the money to pour in.
Except that it doesn’t work like that. Money won’t pour in, because people won’t buy a 300 page pile of badly written garbage. Fact.
Why the rush? There is no fire. All the resources are still there. They will always be there. And your story will never benefit from being rushed. The difference between crap stories and great stories is time. Time to write, time to rest, time to read through, time to redraft and time to rewrite.
It’s very simple: don’t rush.
It’s a Learning Process
No one is born with the knowledge and expertise of editing. It’s a learned process. So with each story we write, we look out for the punctuation and the grammar. We learn to spot those annoying adjectives and adverbs. We learn to read it through to see if it makes sense and it has decent pace. We learn to spot the mistakes in the formatting of sentences and dialogue. We learn to notice if there is a lack of characterisation. We learn about our writing style and voice.
We learn to understand when things just don’t make sense, or there’s a whopping hole in the plot. We learn to spot the weak areas. We learn that tweaking some sentences makes them so much better. We learn to cut others. More importantly we learn to understand our own writing.
Self-editing is as much about self-improvement as it is about writing. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to know enough to spot the kind of errors that make bad writing really bad, which gives self-publishing such a bad reputation.
- Don’t edit as you go – it doesn’t work.
- Take time out – you’ll benefit from it.
- Do a read through – know your story.
- Not Redrafting is a common mistake. The story needs many drafts.
- One edit is never enough
- Don’t rely on spell checkers
- Don’t rush – Take your time.
- It’s a learning process – so learn.
Next week: How do you make a story allegorical?