Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Eight Marvelous Self-Editing Tips by Alison Henderson

I know it's "M" month, but I'm deep in revisions right now and have editing on the brain, so I thought I'd share my top eight tips. (This is actually a list of my personal writing bugaboos, but you may be able to relate.)

We all know publishers have limited resources to devote to editing these days.  Many editors are overburdened and underappreciated.  They lack the time to spend with individual authors tightening scenes and strengthening story arcs.  And copy editing is becoming a lost art.  I don’t believe I’ve read a book by a top author in the past year that didn’t contain at least three glaring copy edit errors.  Now, more than ever, writers are responsible for the product that ultimately reaches the reader.

I had a wonderful experience with my first book, Harvest of Dreams.  My editor was gentle and patient, guiding me through three rounds of edits until we had a satisfying final version.  I soon realized an objective editor is worth her weight in gold.  I thought I knew how to write, but during the editing process she taught me to recognize and remove redundancies, energize passive writing, and beat down my proclivity to stuff sentences with adverbs. She did such a good job that my third book, The Treasure of Como Bluff, needed only a few minor tweaks.

Unfortunately, we can’t always rely on someone else to point out the flaws in our work and suggest corrections.  If we want to get published and stay published, we have to nourish our inner self-editor.

I’m not talking about the little voice of self-doubt that criticizes every word choice and threatens to strangle your muse during the first or second draft.  I’m talking about a critic who can review the almost-final product and see mistakes with detached clarity. 

Every writer should develop a self-editing checklist based on his or her weaknesses.  The process requires self-knowledge, but isn’t that one of the ultimate goals and rewards of writing?

Here’s a short version of mine.  Perhaps some of these will strike a chord with you, too.

1.     Watch those #%$&* adverbs!
2.     Remove unnecessary “that”s.
3.     Watch for word echoes (words repeated too close together).
4.     Keep verbs active (within reason).  I once had to give up on a mystery after three chapters because the author had amped up every single verb.  The result was unnatural and exhausting.
5.     Show, don’t tell.
6.     Balance dialogue tags and beats.  Too few and the reader won’t know who’s talking.  Too many and you interrupt the flow.
7.     Use repetitive words or elements with caution.
8.     Maintain consistent point of view.  This is partly a matter of style, but I prefer deep third person POV and try to catch myself if I start drifting father away.

There are many more pitfalls in writing, so find your own, and happy editing!



Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Great editing tips, Alison. I wish I were stronger at self-editing. So often I work hard to correct one annoying weakness only to discover another one. It's like someone sticking their finger in a leaking dam.

Margo Hoornstra said...

I'm with Vonnie. I correct one of my own weaknesses only to find another. Love the term word echoes. Great advice. Thank you.

Barbara Edwards said...

I like your list. I just finished my final draft for my editor and used a similar list. I had to check to see if I used all the senses, too.

Jannine Gallant said...

Even when I think I've caught everything, I haven't. You're right about the value of a good editor!

Alison Henderson said...

Now, if only I could always take my own advice. I've mastered some of these, but some mistakes seem to be burned in my psyche - so hard to get rid of.

Lisa Hannah Wells said...

My newest is not enough internal emotional conflict! What gives! Sometimes it seems I can't win no matter what I do. I also have the other 8 Alison mentioned, just not quite so much anymore. Is editing always this difficult? Geez!