Not every writer has the budget for professional editing services, this much is a given, and while you lack the experience of a professional editor you can, in fact, successfully self-edit. All you need, really, is the patience and passion to commit yourself to learning how to edit in the same way you learned how to write.
Practice, practice, practice.
This is not a comprehensive, one-stop shop for all things editing, but if you follow the advice in this blog series you will be on your way to a better novel and an expanded skill-set (both good things!).
How is editing different from proofreading?
Some of you will be rolling your eyes, but I can assure you there are plenty of people who don’t know the difference between the two.
While there is an amount of proofreading involved in editing, the two differ hugely; proofreading is the process of checking a document for spelling and grammar errors while editing is much more lengthy and involved.
When you put your editing hat on you are looking for; tone, structure, tense, plot holes, consistency, and even checking facts! In the process of editing you may remove whole sections of the work, or even add new ones if it will aid the story
Self-editing can be broken down, roughly speaking, into four key stages;
- The Close Edit
- The Hand Edit
- The Oral Edit
It is so key that, firstly, you rest your work. Some people say a day or two is enough, Stephen King recommends in On Writing no less than six weeks. I’d give it a week minimum, but two or three would be ideal. Of course, a shorter resting time means occupying yourself elsewhere; the idea is to remove yourself from the project and move on before you return to it as an editor. Ideally you should be reading it as if someone else wrote it. Depending on your emotional attachment to the project and your personality this can mean that resting time varies; you’ll figure out an ideal window as you gain experience.
Once you’ve rested the story you should return to it with fresh eyes and read through it in word document form for the “close edit”. Here you will be looking for the big, glaring mistakes; plot holes, character inconsistency, style errors, and structural flaws. Do this in bursts of one to one and a half hours, depending on your ability to maintain focus, and rest between these bursts to ensure you work to your best level consistently. I find that changing the word document to a pale yellow or mint green helps to mitigate eye strain and helps to pick out smaller errors (though these should not be your main focus at this point).
Then, of course, its time to rest it again.
Next is the “hand edit”; print your manuscript off and go through it with your red editing pen. At this point all the main issues should have been ironed out so you’ll be looking mainly for grammar, spelling, subtle tense and POV issues, and trouble words/crutch words (more explanation to follow). Once you apply these changes to the document you need to, yup you guessed it, rest the story again!
The final stage is the “oral edit” which involves reading your story words for word out loud. Cringe, right? Trust me, this is very effective. Not only will you pick up the small things like dialogue realism and run on sentences, but you’ll get an idea of the flow of the novel. You can do this from a screen, but I’d recommend having a hard copy that you can jot your suggested changes onto rather than faffing with the comments/review features of the average word processor.
*(this is from the first chapter, not the prologue)