A lot of people seem to have the notion that it’s during the first draft of a novel or article where the writer uses their powers to the fullest, and that the editing and drafting process is mechanical or boring. I would say the opposite is true: it’s during the drafting process that the real magic happens. I should know, since I just finished up my newest novel, A Rapturous Occasion, and edited it myself (in a perfect world, a trained professional would do this, but I simply don’t have the budget to hire one). If you’re in my position, and have either completed a manuscript or are nearing the end, please read this brief guide on how to get the most out of the self-editing process.
1) Your first draft isn’t sacred:
Unless you’re styling yourself after beatnik writers, there’s no reason to treat your first draft like it’s untouchable. True, sometimes the first thoughts you have are the best, and on some occasions, it’s actually imperfections in a work that will lend themselves to your book’s greatness. Other times, the first draft is sloppy or over-written. You have to be objective when you’re reading it. I’d recommend going so far as to pretend the manuscript wasn’t written by you. On numerous occasions, I’ve had to cut out whole paragraphs or even pages that originally took me hours to write. It wasn’t easy, but in the end, the story benefitted from the omissions.
2) Just because your done with the manuscript, don’t think the creative process is over:
When your editing, try to keep your brain out of the analytical mode–that is, if you’re reading your manuscript, and you have an idea for a scene or an added bit of dialogue, don’t be afraid to add it in. I find a lot of my best dialogue or descriptions come during the editing process.
3) Learn to use your word processor:
I’ve known the basics on how to use a word processor for years, but it wasn’t until I was submitting my first book for publication (The Madness of Art: Short Stories) that I learned how to use many of its functions. If your self-publishing a book, make sure to learn how to use page breaks and section breaks. Page breaks help you arrange your chapters. For instance, you’re likely going to reformat your text into a 5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9 size when you finish up. If you don’t use page breaks, your text will be all over the place when you modify the size, but if you use page breaks, your book should look okay. Section breaks are important to learn how to use too because they play a big role in your page numbering–you don’t want page numbers on your title or copyright pages.
4) Learn how to use the search function on your word processor:
Your word processor most likely has the ability to search through your text for whatever word you type in. If you use Apple’s Pages program, go to “edit,” scroll down to “find” then click on “search.” This lets you pick out words in your manuscript and quickly find things that might be errors. This was a huge help for me while finishing A Rapturous Occasion. One reason is because about twenty pages into the story, I decided I didn’t like the names I’d given my characters. With the search function, I was able to quickly find the occasions when I used the now defunct names and replace them. That would have been a real embrarassment if I hadn’t. The other perk is, I was able to find the words I overuse. I think every writer has stock phrases that will annoy a reader. In my case, a big one for me is using the word “more.” By using the search bar, I was able to take out about ten uses of “more” from my manuscript.
5) When in doubt, read a sentence aloud.
Sometimes a sentence will seem semantically sound, but phonetically it can be a nightmare. You want your sentences to sound okay. As an art, writing should appeal to the eye and to the ear. There were many instances in A Rapturous Occasion where sentences made perfect sense, but were atrocious. Odds are, if you read a sentence aloud and find yourself tongue-tied, that sentence has to be fixed.
Okay, I hope these tips will help you in your editing process–if you have questions, write them in the comments box and I’ll try to help you out.