When you’re answering to children all day, you can become a bit repetitive, and you have to get creative about your answers, hoping one magical construction of words will sink in. Oftentimes, the words don’t sink in, no matter how hard you try, especially if the answer that the kid wants is ‘I will do that for you right now, my sweet.’ So you just have to abandon the topic and hope to build a new one. Which brings me to the topic of the day: self-editing.
Self-editing is tricky. It’s easy to overlook mistakes in your own writing, mistakes that would pop out on the page screaming at you in another’s work. Self-editing is hard because we can be so close to our own work, that we need to step back from it and come in with fresh eyes. This is not always easy if you are driven to finish your work on a deadline. But that extra space and time means you will look at your work more critically and with less protectiveness than if you plow through in one go. I admit, I am not good at stepping away. I feel like I’ve abandoned a baby with a dirty diaper and want to rush in and make it all better right away.
After editing for typos, and punctuation, I start reading my work aloud, and that’s when I come across the biggest changes that need to be made, see the weaknesses in dialogue, the inconsistencies, and the areas that aren’t working. When reading my work aloud, I start seeing repetition. For example, in my first novel, I was in love with using the word ‘just’. It was just everywhere and just served no purpose. Little words like this can clutter a good story and weaken it even without us being able to pinpoint why. So, I slashed a ton of ‘justs’ and the manuscript did not suffer. In my latest manuscript, I peppered ‘breezes’ of various kinds too frequently throughout. A friend editing my manuscript pointed out how often I used the word ‘breeze’. It was kind of mind boggling that I never noticed that before, even after reading it aloud to myself. There were breezes coming through windows, across porches and downtown streets. Maybe living in cold Edinburgh, I subconsciously long for those Texas breezes that break the stifling heat. If you have a friend or several friends who can point these repetitions out for you, then beg and plead for them to read your work. And return the favor as much as possible.
Which brings me to my last point, gentle reader (I had to use that, having found out this weekend that some writers love using this in their work and that it ticks off agents). Self-editing, I think, can go only so far. It’s like parenting in a vacuum. Those eyes from other writers are as invaluable as exchanging tips with other mothers. It takes a village to raise a child and a room full of grumpy writers to raise a novel. It’s a huge ask to have people read a long manuscript, but if you can exchange editing with other writers, do it! Take it seriously and it will come back to you when you need it. Which reminds me, off to edit a friend’s manuscript who has been patiently waiting for it for two weeks now!
How do you self-edit? What do you find when you read your own work aloud?