First of all I wish you all a Happy New Year for all your writing, editing and publishing endeavors! I hope it’ll be a productive one, full of creativity, reading and learning.
And with more Sunday Musings, of course! Coming back from our holiday break, I want to first recap the topics from last year. So far, we’ve talked about:
- Where to get started as a writer
- How to set up a writing system and boost your word count
- Basics of story structure, and a practical guide to outlining
- How to persevere through tough times
- Scenes full of VIGORR
- The importance of a great cover
This week, we’re moving one step further: beyond the first draft and into self-editing. So in today’s musings, you’ll learn:
- how to organize your self-edits,
- what to look out for when going through your manuscript, and
- what you should not worry about too much on the first run-through.
I’ll also give you a handy checklist for your self-edits. So let’s dive into it!
Self-editing – make your draft as strong as possible
Yay! The first draft is done – make sure to celebrate it! I like to to put the manuscript away for a day or two, and enjoy a cup of coffee at my favorite neighborhood cafe (definitely a piece of celebratory cake as well…) But after the celebration, the work continues – where to next?
In past musings, I’ve mentioned how important it is to get a good editor, as well as great beta readers. But before sending your manuscript out, you first need to do your own homework. And that means: Self-edit – fix your own manuscript. In this stage, you are checking up on what you wanted your book to be, and whether you’ve achieved the goals you set for your book.
In the next paragraph, I’ll give you the steps of my self-editing process that also functions as a handy checklist before getting into each point in detail. A great companion for this process is the book “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers“, by Renni Browne and Dave King with detailed explanations and lots of exercises to train your self-editing skills.
- Go through the document and work on any place holders or comments.
- Multiple read throughs with different formatting. During these, check:
- Are pivotal parts missing? Do I need additional scenes?
- Where am I telling where I should be showing?
- Where am I skimming / bored?
- Which parts do not fit / are jarring?
- Are the characterizations consistent?
- Are the view points consistent and as strong as possible?
- Which parts are repetitive?
- Check your names.
- Do spot checks.
- Do a first spell check.
Work on placeholders and comments
During my first draft, I leave a lot of placeholders and comments that I want to return to later to rearrange or flesh out. Typical examples are missing scenes, or parts where I’ll need further research or expert input (“TECH JARGON GOES HERE”).
So this is the first part of all my self-edits: going through the placeholders and comments and removing as many of them as possible.
The comments in the first point where the “known unknowns” (I knew I’d have to go back there), now it’s on to finding the “unknown unknowns” 😉 – and for this, you need to read your story. Multiple times.
A little trick that really helps me to see my story from different angles and avoid the dreaded “organizational blindness” (not seeing your own mistakes anymore) is to read in as many different formats as possible. This can include:
- Read on your e-reader (create an epub or mobi with a software like Calibre)
- Read on your computer, with different fonts and font sizes
- Read parts out loud
On each of the reads, I make notes, and usually each way of reading brings up new items to work on. The next paragraphs outline which specific things I look for during reading.
While reading through your manuscript, check if you cover all necessary parts of your story. Check with the 3 part structure and Hero’s Journey concepts, and add scenes if necessary.
Showing not telling
While some exposition is necessary, it is better to show your reader the important emotions and turning points of the story than telling them. This is a good time to find lengthy explanations and replace them with action.
Do you find yourself skimming parts on your reread, or feel that you’re getting bored? That’s a sign that some work is needed. You can either try to make it more interesting (adding stakes, action, or character development) or cut it ruthlessly to a minimum.
Delete scenes that do not fit
So this is the really hard part – some scenes or sentences just don’t fit your manuscript, and often these are your favorites. But you have to be strong, if it doesn’t serve the story it has to go. This could mean removing characters, settings, scenes, dialogue or whole sub plots. One thing I like to do is to move these parts to another document and hopefully pair them with another novel in the future where they can really shine.
At least for your main characters, take a close look at their evolution throughout your story – have they learned something, does their arc make sense, are there no jarring jumps? Also make sure that the characterization is consistent, and that no actions or dialogue feel out of place.
If you’re writing from multiple points of view, ask yourself: could a scene be stronger from a different view point? Does another character have more insight, or higher stakes in this scene? It may be worthwhile to rewrite from this viewpoint. Also check for repetition – showing the same moment from different perspectives needs a legitimate reason, otherwise it just slows down your story.
Repetition should also be checked in general, not just for view points. Have things been mentioned more than once (e.g., in dialogue and narrative)? Usually once is plenty and packs more of a punch.
Check your names
I don’t know why, but somehow my first drafts often end up with strange naming patterns – all of a sudden all characters with speaking parts start with a J… So this is another check that’s really important: make sure the names you’re using distinctive enough, and that fit your setting. A historical requires names that fit the period, and if you set your book in a foreign country you also want to have the fitting names. This goes for characters, places, and other things you’ve invented for your story, like businesses or music bands.
After my full read throughs I like to go back and do a few spot checks (I like to do about five) for which I go to a random part of my manuscript, read a full scene an analyze again what’s working and what not. The VIGORR concept is a great help for me there.
First spell check
At the beginning, I also promised you what not to focus on in self-editing, and that thing is spelling and grammar. Don’t get me wrong, these things are important–vitally so–but it’s too easy to get bogged down in these micro details when this stage is all about the macro editing issues. So don’t get hung up on the details just yet. That being said, do run your word processor’s spell check before sending the manuscript to anyone – the cleaner it arrives at beta readers, the more of the important issues they’ll find.
At the start of your self-editing process you had a draft, and now you have an edited first draft – congratulations! It’s actually a very big step, and for me usually the first readable version of a story that I can now finally send of to some very cherished members of my publishing team – my beta readers!
If you wonder how you best go about finding beta readers, and how to work with them efficiently, you are in luck – the next Sunday Musings deal with exactly that!
Writing tip of the week
Today I have a grammar article from Scribendi Editing and Proofreading, and one I need to reread every now and then: How to Use Apostrophes (hint: only for to show possession and the omission of letters or numbers). So stop getting your its and it’s mixed up and check it out!
Fiction read of the week
An MF romantic novel about office mates that hate each other. Really, really hate each other. Or… maybe not so much? Uh-oh!
“The Hating Game” by Sally Thorne is a fun, sexy, slow burn romp that made my heart flutter the entire read through. <3
Bits & pieces
Even though the Sunday Musings were on winter break, I’ve been busy writing and publishing. For Christmas, I published the short & sexy follow-to Leo Loves Aries, called “Leo Tops Aries” – and you can download it completely free on my website! In January, five contemporary gay romance novellas previously published individually between 2013 and 2016 were rereleased in one neat package under the title “Briefs“.
All the best for your self-editing endeavors, and ’til next week!
Books and resources mentioned in this bulletin:
- “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers“, by Renni Browne and Dave King
- How to Use Apostrophes
- “The Hating Game“, by Sally Thorne
- “Leo Tops Aries“
- “Briefs” – This collection contains five contemporary gay romance novellas previously published individually between 2013 and 2016.
- You can get a free e-book by signing up for my newsletter
- Disclaimer: All links to books in this article are affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you make a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost for you if you purchase the books via these links!
Session #9 – Cover up!
Session #11 – Nothing better than a beta reader!