self-editing made easy, –ier, easier

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The dreaded self-edit or self-critique. It’s a pain, but it’s not as hard as you would think. Presenting a clean manuscript to your critique group will enable them to spend their time more productively by addressing characterization and plot rather than grammar and spelling issues.

Look at a self-edit as if it were a series of steps.

Step 1 – Write it! Short story or chapter, get those thoughts down and write. Recently, I had a chapter that was giving me trouble, and I finally quit trying to come up with motivations. I just wrote the paragraphs as if I was writing stage directions: X was here and he opened the door. I didn’t worry about grammar, spelling, or what the devil was he thinking when he did that? I just wrote it.

Step 2 – Smooth it out. Here’s where the editing really starts. Read the scene and ask yourself:

Will someone know what my character’s environment looks like?

What is my character trying to accomplish in this scene?

Do I convey his/her accomplishments in a chronological sequence that makes sense both to the reader and to environment I’ve created?

If the answers to any of these questions are either “no” or “I don’t know,” go back and rewrite the scene until the answers are: yes, yes, yes!

Step 3 – Are all my words spelled correctly and do those words convey the right tone for my scene?

Step 4 – Are my sentences grammatically correct?

Step 5 – Read the manuscript out loud. No, I’m not kidding. Do I? You bet’cha, but I whisper, because if I don’t, Mr. F keeps wanting to know if I’m on the phone. When I read the scene out loud, I often pick up on missing words and clumsy phrasing that I wouldn’t see while reading.

Step 6 – Go back through the scene again, this time you’re looking for dumps of information that could be conveyed either through action or dialogue.

Step 7 – Go back through the scene again, this time you’re only looking at dialogue. Does it read smoothly? Are your characters speaking like normal people would speak or is their dialogue stilted and awkward? This is another place where reading out loud can be extremely helpful.

Step 8 – Use the “Find” feature of your word processing program and search for the following words: that, just, maybe, quite, some, very, almost, was. See if there is any way to eliminate or reword your sentences to eliminate these words. My general test is to read the sentence out loud omitting the word. If the meaning of my sentence doesn’t change, then I delete the word.

Step 9 – Eliminate any unnecessary adverbs or adjectives.

Step 10 – Put the scene or chapter away for at least one week, preferably longer. Then go back and begin again at Step 1.

Does this mean you should never present a rough manuscript to your critique group? No, there have been times when I’ve needed an objective opinion as to whether I’m on the right track with a scene. When that happens, I advise them in advance the scene is rough. I also have a couple of friends who are willing to give a scene a quick look if I need it before I submit the chapter to my critique group.

However, I don’t like to do this often, because then my critique group becomes as “reader-blind” to the manuscript as I am. I need them to pick out the errors I miss.

That’s the ten step editing process I use for self-editing my chapters. How do you go about self-editing? If you’ve already done an article on your blog about self-editing, please feel free to post your link here in the comments.

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About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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7 Responses to self-editing made easy, –ier, easier

  1. Kelly Bryson says:

    You have an orderly mind. I do a rough draft- and is it rough. Then I read through it for basic plot- is this engaging? Does it make sense? Because if it doesn’t make sense to me, then the rest of you aren’t going to get it either. I watch for grammar in this stage also. Then I get nitty-gritty and read aloud, maybe I print it out and line edit (I’m doing this more and more- what a difference!). I reword a hundred times and when what’s written stops really bothering me I let it sit- sometimes overnight, sometimes for a few days. I am less stage-by-stage, more of a bring the whole thing along at the same time kind of gal. So I delete overused words in the same read as checking dialogue and punctuation. Maybe that explains a few things:)

    • Teresa says:

      I have to do mine in stages so I don’t forget anything. I’ve noticed a lot of people putting checklists on their blogs, so I thought I’d order my thoughts on the issue. It really helps keep me focused. You do all the same things I do, Kelly, but you do them in a way that is comfortable for you. I think everyone uses a slightly different editing technique. Thanks for sharing yours!

  2. jenniferneri says:

    I really enjoy how you work. Gosh. Makes me realize how unorganized I am! 🙂

    • Teresa says:

      I don’t think you’re unorganized, Jennifer. I think it’s like Kelly said, we all do the same things but in ways that are comfortable to us. Writing the blog posts simply helps me to organize my thoughts and strengthen my work ethic.

      Thanks for stopping by! I’ll be coming around to visit everyone real soon. I’ve been real MIA lately, but I’ve got to get this manuscript finished.

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  4. johnrobertmarlow says:

    In keeping with your request for self editing links, this blog is devoted entirely to self editing:

    Self Editing Blog
    http://selfeditingblog.com/

    Good luck with your writing!

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