Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Three Tips for Self Editing

Every writer needs to be able to do a good sweep of their own work. After all, during the initial stages of a work, we’re all we've got.

Writers groups, peers, and/or editors tend to come in after the first draft has been worked, reworked, beaten, and bludgeoned into something that makes sense. (Or at least seems to make sense. Honestly, most of the time I’m so sick of looking at my first drafts all I want to do is ship them off to someone else.)

We need to have the tools at hand to be able to polish that draft before anyone else sees it.

These are three steps I take to help get me to that second draft stage.

1. Take A Vacation

I don't mean head off to the beach. (Though if you've got the time and inclination, who am I to argue? Bring me back a seashell.)

Just take a break. After spending hours or days (or weeks or maybe even months) working on something, you're too close to it to see its imperfections (and even its perfections).

You need time apart. Take a walk. Read a book. Have a drink. Listen to some music. Work on another project. Browse the Internet.

I’d recommend a several day break to let everything marinate. Of course that isn't always possible.

At the very least, taking 10 to 15 minutes away from your writing will refresh your eyes so you'll be able to catch some of those spelling, grammar, and continuity errors you didn't see. Then you can ship it off to your editor/writing group with the peace of mind that you don't look like a total illiterate.

2. Kill Your Babies (But keep the corpses handy for resurrection.)

Anyone who's been writing a while has surely come across the old saying: kill your babies. (Or "kill your darlings" as William Faulkner originally put it.) This is just a slightly macabre, eye-catching way of saying: cut to the chase.

Your babies may be clever phrasings that don't work, whole scenes that don't fit, or even a character that's out of place. You may really, really love them. They may be some of the best things you've ever created. But if they don't work for your piece, they don't work.

And they need to die.

But I do recommend keeping their corpses around. (I've had many moments where I've deleted something that was really well written but didn't fit the location only to find out that it worked perfectly in another spot.)

You can do this by keeping a separate document full of the cuts you make (a repository of verbal corpses). This works best when you're chopping out whole sections and scenes.

Generally, I find the "track changes" function in Word to be the easiest way to resurrect my smaller babies (sets of dialogue, turns of phrase).  I can make my deletions and edits and still have the material I killed right there on there on the screen for ease of return.

3. Listen to your story

I mean this literally.

I can read my writing numerous times and miss spots where I've repeated a "the" or left out a word because my brain knows what's supposed to be there and goes ahead and fills it in (or takes it out, as the case may be).

Hearing your story overrides what your brain intended to write.

Via Stock Xchng
So read your story aloud. (Other people might wonder what you're doing, but I tend to talk to myself anyway, so it's par for the course.)

Or get someone else to read it to you. (If nothing else, find a text-to-speech program such as "Sayz Me." It's a little stilted and robotic, but it does the job.)

Hearing your story allows you to more easily identify repetitive word usage and catch on to those clumsy sentence structures that muddy up your writing.

Do you have any tips on getting from that first rough draft to a semi-polished second?


L. M. Leffew said...

These are great tips!

L. M. Leffew said...

Thank you. :)

I always waffle a bit on handing out writing tips, but at the end of the day if one person gets a helpful spark, I'm satisfied.

L. M. Leffew said...

I am bookmarking this.  Thank you.

L. M. Leffew said...

You are very welcome. :)

Thank you. 

L. M. Leffew said...

Excellently put. I think we writers have a tendency to let our minds fly away to the places we write about - reading posts like this, help bring me back to earth and get back to work. We all have our dreams - its good to be reminded what the next step to achieving them is. Thankye fer that :)

L. M. Leffew said...

Great tips!  I will for sure put those to use!

L. M. Leffew said...

I've never tried reading it aloud; that's an interesting thought.  I will have to see what it does for me.  

L. M. Leffew said...

Definitely true. 

Thank you for dropping by. :) 

L. M. Leffew said...


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