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Advice for writers

The Dos and Don’ts of Self-Editing

The Dos and Donts of Self Editing 1

If you’re reading this, it means you’ve embarked on the exhilarating yet occasionally treacherous journey of self-editing. As a seasoned writer, I’ve traversed the winding paths of self-editing enough times to have picked up some valuable insights – and a few bruises along the way. So, grab your red pen (or virtual equivalent), and let’s explore the dos and don’ts of self-editing.

DO: Take a Breather Before Diving In

Before you dive into the nitty-gritty of editing, give your manuscript some space to breathe. Trust me; your words need room to stretch their legs before you can start dissecting them. A day or two (or even a week) away from your work can provide a fresh perspective and make your editing more effective. Taking a break allows you to detach emotionally from your work. You know how it is – you’ve just written the most brilliant sentence in literary history (or so you think), and you can’t bear to see it altered. But distance helps you see that maybe, just maybe, that sentence isn’t as precious as you thought.

DON’T: Rush the Process

Impatience is the enemy of quality editing. Resist the urge to skim through your manuscript hastily, like a tourist in a foreign country trying to see all the sights in one day. Editing is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time, and be prepared to revisit sections multiple times. Your future readers will thank you. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a masterpiece.

DO: Get in the Right Mindset

Editing requires a different mindset than writing. Channel your inner grammar guru and eagle-eyed detective. You’re on a quest for clarity, consistency, and perfection. Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and be ready to hunt down those pesky plot holes and character inconsistencies. This isn’t the time for big-picture thinking – it’s all about the details. If your protagonist’s eyes are blue in one chapter and green in another, you’ve got work to do.

DON’T: Be Afraid to Cut

Kill your darlings – it’s a cliché for a reason. Be ruthless with unnecessary words, phrases, and scenes that don’t serve your story. Remember, less can often be more. You don’t need that overly descriptive paragraph about the color of the curtains in your protagonist’s childhood bedroom unless it’s a critical plot point. As William Faulkner wisely said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” It hurts, but it’s necessary.

DO: Seek Feedback

Writing can be a solitary endeavor, but editing doesn’t have to be. Enlist the help of beta readers, critique partners, or writing groups. Fresh eyes can spot issues you might have missed and offer valuable suggestions. Don’t be afraid to share your work with others. They’re not there to tear your manuscript apart; they’re there to help you make it better. Think of them as your literary support squad.

DON’T: Take All Feedback as Gospel

While feedback is essential, not all suggestions will align with your vision for your work. Trust your instincts and evaluate feedback critically. It’s your story, after all. Sometimes, well-intentioned feedback can inadvertently steer you away from your unique voice and style. Remember, feedback is a tool, not a rulebook.

DO: Polish Your Prose

Pay close attention to the flow of your sentences. Smooth transitions and varied sentence structures keep readers engaged. Consider the rhythm and musicality of your words; your writing should read like a symphony. Think of your manuscript as a sculptor thinks of their marble block – chisel away the excess, and reveal the beauty within.

DON’T: Overcomplicate

While a well-placed semicolon can be a thing of beauty, don’t overcomplicate your prose. Clarity should be your top priority. If your reader needs a dictionary to understand your writing, you’ve gone too far. Sure, you want to impress your readers with your vast vocabulary, but not at the expense of comprehension.

DO: Proofread Thoroughly

Typos and grammatical errors are the bane of any writer’s existence. Don your editor’s hat and comb through your manuscript meticulously. Consider using professional proofreading tools or hiring an editor if possible. Errors can sneak past even the most watchful eye, so don’t rely solely on your own skills.

DON’T: Rely Solely on Spellcheck

Spellcheckers are handy, but they’re not infallible. They won’t catch homophones or context-specific errors. Always review your work manually. Remember, “there” and “their” and “they’re” might all be correctly spelled, but they’re not interchangeable.

DO: Learn from the Process

Self-editing is a learning experience. Each manuscript you tackle will make you a better writer. Embrace the process and take notes on the common mistakes you find in your work. It’ll help you grow. Think of each edit as a step on your journey to becoming the best writer you can be. Each mistake you correct is a lesson learned, and each lesson learned is a step closer to excellence.

DON’T: Obsess Over Perfection

Striving for perfection can be paralyzing. At some point, you must let your work go and embrace its imperfections. After all, even the most celebrated novels have a few typos hidden in their pages. Know when to say, “It’s good enough,” and move on. Perfectionism can be the enemy of progress.

In conclusion, self-editing is both an art and a science. It’s where your raw creative energy meets the disciplined hand of refinement. So, approach it with patience, an open mind, and a touch of ruthlessness when necessary. Happy editing, fellow wordsmiths – your masterpiece awaits!

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