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Editing your own work

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I have a novel that I intend to submit to a publisher at the end of the month, and I've been going through it line by line in an attempt to smooth it out. It's been an agonizing process, and a humbling one.

I first started the novel eleven months ago, I wrote it over two months, and then I submitted it to my editors for review. I revised it several times under their direction, and then let it sit on the shelf for a while without doing anything with it. I knew it needed a few more changes but I just wasn't in the mood.

Last Sunday I finally was able to work on it again and it has been every bit as grueling as I had anticipated it to be. I've learned so much as a writer since it was initially written that I've changed almost every paragraph in order to improve the flow of the writing. I've noticed inconsistencies and had to rewrite several sections entirely. It's been worth it, but it's been tiring and stressful at the whole time.

This story is my child, and it feels like I'm having to discipline it because it's done something wrong. I don't know how many of you have felt this way before when going through your own work, but if you have, how do you make the process more bearable? Have you been forced to just soldier through it or do you have a different perspective?

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I'm going to recommend a few books:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers Link

The First Five Pages Link

Revision and Self-Editing Link

All three directly apply to what you are trying to get done.

#1 and #3 will help you with the editing.

#2 will help you get an idea about what publishers look for in winning manuscripts.

Good luck!

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  • 3 months later...

I heard that the New Yorker magazine has an editor just for commas..

I have a bad habit of misspelling tons of words and then let the spell checker drop in a wrong word without me noticing. I also omit crucial words and when re-reading, I don't see the missing word and keep reading as if it is there. This is a good reason for an editor.

All of these things can be fixed almost mechanically, but perfect punctuation and perfect spelling doesn't make it a good story.

What most of us need is a good reader. Someone who likes you and likes and understands your work. Someone who can tell you that they like where the story is going or says, this character is weak. They might tell you where to trim it down or to fill it out.. they tell you how your readers will feel when they read your story.. This is what is really important... Everything else is secondary..

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I have to say that the word processor is a miracle.

I can rattle stuff off like spelling things out on a WeeGee board.

Then go back and reconstruct and craft individual sentences and paragraphs.

Very often I will write important things out of order but you can then move them around and keep what's best.

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I've used Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate stories to Word. After enough practice and training (practice using the program and training me to use it effectively) I found it worked better for nonfiction. There are too many nuances of word pronunciation and usage (for example, contractions tend to be a problem) that tend to required too much manual post-speech editing to make it worthwhile. But for dictating user manuals for software we develop for our clients it's great and requires much less manual editing.

Colin :icon_geek:

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I also omit crucial words and when re-reading, I don't see the missing word and keep reading as if it is there. This is a good reason for an editor.

This is a major problem for a lot of writers and one I know I am guilty of. One piece of advice I was given by a eminent published author, unfortunately one I have not always followed, is that when you have finished a piece of work put it to one side and leave it, for at least a month, if possible longer, then come back and read it. By that time you will have forgotten what you had actually intended to write and so read what is there, not what you expect to be there. I must say when I have actually done this I have found myself catching a lot of errors, especially missed words or incorrect words, like putting the when you intended they.

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There's no question that it's much more effective to self-edit that way. But I for one don't have the patience to let the story age like that.

​It is difficult but, if you can do it, it is worth the effort. Though I must admit that the times I have done it have been more by accident than design. Woke up early hours of the morning with the idea for a story, got up wrote the story, then gone back to bed and slept, only to have forgotten the file name I have saved it under. Usually about three months before I find it.

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There's an alternative to putting a story aside for a period of time before posting it if you don't want to or can't wait. I post it after edits (mine and others), then I go back after a period of time (usually several months, sometimes much longer) and reread the story or chapter and edit all of the stuff that needs fixing. That was recommended by the instructor in my Writing Short Fiction class at UC Berkeley. She said it's a way to have a "fresh eyes" review of a story.

Colin :icon_geek:

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I have discovered that the easiest way to find my mistakes is to have the story posted on this site and then they jump off the page at me. Just kidding. But I do have reader and we both tend to miss the small things. A lapse of time does work if you edit your own work...that's how I see it.

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Having come late to the writing of fiction from the direction of my “real world” pursuit of poetry I perhaps have a different set of embedded disciplines. I do self-edit, and in order to accomplish the telling of a story I work through every page I produce at least a half-dozen times. I write initially to unfold the story, but then go back over every sentence again and again to tweak for rhythm and flow and progression and the sense of it.

I support that process by reading everything aloud. Poetry started out (and continues to be) an oral medium, and I’ve found that reading my prose aloud, even if only to myself, reveals many errors as the voice trips over bad constructions and ill-chosen words and sentences that go nowhere.

It is, of course, a time-consuming and arduous process, and tends to limit my scope severely—I think the longest story I’ve ever written is shy of 15,000 words. (When I’ve reached that limit I find I am usually too hoarse to continue.) That is when I seek out a sympathetic reader who isn’t afraid to confront me with his honest reactions to the story I’ve constructed, and on the basis of those comments and suggestions I usually find I still have work to do. This is a different process, however, from sending draft after draft to an editor, yet I believe it results in an equally well-finished piece of writing.

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