The Single Best Self-Edit Tip Ever (and More!)
For the past year, I’ve been on an adventure to publish. The journey, like those of so many authors, started in childhood. Neighbors say I’d sit under an elm tree in the back yard, with pencil and notepad in hand, writing. I wrote through school before ending with a marvelous career in marketing/advertising. And during the snowiest winter on record (in a VERY snowy place), I wrote a manuscript, then stumbled into a series of opportunities that resulted in a very fine literary agent and visibility in publishing houses whose names you’d recognize.
As of today, I have one manuscript ready to go (which means hand off to a traditional publisher or self publish) and another in its final self-edit. From here, that second manuscript will move to an insightful conceptual editor for thorough review. And then I have decisions to make before picking up the third manuscript again.
Since there’s a vast difference between editing a press release or brochure and editing an 85,000-word document, I asked a question of other authors represented by the literary agency that represents me: what is your single strongest editing technique? I share their responses below, with my great thanks for their generosity. (What an amazing group of people! I am honored.)
THIS IS IT: READ IT ALOUD. Oh, yes, indeedy, this works. This is your takeaway from today’s blog. The process is as slow as cold molasses, and you need to warn everyone in your household that you’re not losing your mind. But hearing my written words, particularly dialogue, has highlighted my “literary fat,” as well as unearthed problems with idea progression. I know these manuscripts so well that I sometimes make assumptions about what the reader knows. That’s a big mistake and this technique goes a long way toward correcting it.
READ ALOUD WITH DIFFERENT VOICES. One suggestion was to read each character’s dialogue in a different voice. Doing so has helped me spot characters whose linguistic tempos, speech patterns, and vocabularies should differ more than they do. So I’ve been able to refine characters by reading in “their” voices. And as a result, I’ve made each a little more distinct—a gift to my readers that will enable them to bond with the characters more easily.
READ FROM THE BACK FIRST. I’ve actually combined this with reading aloud. I started with my last chapter and am slowly and methodically moving to the beginning, chapter by chapter. Not only does this help me approach the end of the book “fresh,” but my enthusiasm for the closing of my manuscript—it’s climax—has increased, and I’ve spotted opportunities to make it better. I am convinced my entire manuscript will benefit from my reading back-to-front.
RECRUIT THOSE BETA READERS! I am a huge fan of healthy distance. I have three Beta readers ranging from early twenties to mid eighties. I know they’ll highlight individual issues and respond to different passages as they live the adventure with my characters.
Do you have a favorite self-editing technique? I’d love to hear about it.