My guest this week is Dori Harrell, a former award-winning journalist with more than a thousand articles published in newspapers and magazines nationwide. She now freelance writes and edits and enjoys working with indie authors. She also edits for Gemma Halliday Publishing, Out West Press and a large print-on-demand company. And like many authors, she tends to agonize when revising her own writing. But she's stumbled on a few things in her career that have helped ease her revision anxieties. I’m delighted to have her visit Book Blather this week. Welcome, Dori!
Tips to Better Self-Editing
“I am in revision purgatory and really need a fresh pair of eyes.”
I recently received this statement in an e-mail from indie author Anne Carrole, writer of romances with western settings.
If your words are swimming before your eyes when you revise, it’s time to contact an editor. If you’re confident that there’s nothing anyone can do to improve your book, it’s time to contact an editor. If you’ve revised multiple times and doubts about your abilities are setting in, it’s time to contact an editor.
But if you’ve just finished your first draft and are writing the words “The End,” you might want to hold off a bit. Do spend some time on revisions before sending your baby off to its editor.
As owner of Breakout Editing, I now edit full time after an award-winning nonfiction writing career. I was fortunate enough to receive a formal writing and editing education at the school of journalism at the University of Washington. (Journalists, by the way, receive training in fiction writing techniques also.)
One of the first things pounded into me as a writer was: no author should be the final editor of her own writing. With more than a thousand articles in print, both as a journalist and freelance writer, I’ve never been published without my stories undergoing editing—my own and another pair of eyes or two. Currently, I’m writing my first novel. I’ve already hired a story-line editor and have made contact with a copyeditor. I practice what I preach—an editor is essential to writing success. And I’m sure Marilee thoroughly edited this blog post before she published it. I’m counting on it, in fact.
But before your manuscript proceeds to its next pair of eyes, there are steps you can take to improve your self-editing techniques. From my perspective as both writer and editor, I thought I’d offer my top-three suggestions. They won’t necessarily keep you out of revision purgatory, but they may ease your suffering once you’re there.
1. After typing “The End,” give your manuscript a rest. I mean, completely set it aside and don’t look at it again. For novel-length, I’m not talking about a day or two, like with an article. I’m talking at least two weeks. Novellas, at least one week. I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s such a vital point in producing a top-quality story that I’m making this my number one point. I know, I know. You have a self-imposed publishing deadline. My recommendation is to work that rest period into your deadline. Why is this resting period so vital? Because when you revise after a resting period, inconsistencies, typos, and story-line deficiencies will jump out at you. Try it just once, and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll be a Dori convert in this. (And as an editor, I always give a manuscript a rest before the final look-over, for the same reasons.)
2. Invest in a style guide. In publishing, the standard today for most fiction and nonfiction is the Chicago Manual of Style. I am in no way recommending you try to learn or read the entire one-thousand-plus page tome. But familiarize yourself with the comma section, or with terms that are particularly pertinent to your writing style (say, parallel structure). And you don’t even have to buy the hard copy. CMoS offers an online subscription with a great search field. I use it nonstop in editing and writing. Barring that, pick out one or two (no need to get excessive here) grammar websites that offer helpful tips you can easily refer to, such as www.grammarbook.com. The site offers useful examples that will aid any writer. And one of my favorites—Robin Simmons’s Grammar Bytes provides all kinds of simple explanations from verb-subject agreement to adverb clauses. Here’s a link to her terms page: http://www.chompchomp.com/terms.htm. I’m not suggesting you turn into a grammar buff. I’m merely saying that familiarizing yourself with certain technical skills that work with your writing style will enhance your self-editing abilities, which will improve your story. And when you have a question about style, you’ll have an answer at your fingertips.
3. While reading through your manuscript, if something you’ve written leaves you with a feeling of unease or trepidation, rework that section until you’re comfortable with it. I’m referring to a scene or paragraph that’s unsettled you to the point that it follows you to bed and to your doctor and to conversations with your friends—and not in a positive way. Do not hesitate to revise based on a persistent, strong negative feeling.
And could I go on and on with tips about spell checking and pinpointing problem areas (for me, it’s typing “you” for “your”)? You bet—and many other editors and writers have done so. But as an author and editor, I find these three steps immensely helpful when editing my own writing. And I’d love to hear your top-three suggestions!