My two main projects have moved from the drafting stage into the editing stage. This isn’t my first rodeo with editing, and between other projects I’ve edited and these two pieces, I’ve learned a lot about how to edit my own work. Editing one’s own work isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.
Giving My Writing Space Is Important
The more time I can give myself between drafting and editing the better. This is actually a tip I heard from a writing instructor, and I’ve used it ever since.
When I take a step away from my writing piece, I can come back later with fresh eyes. Then, I can spot missing spots in character arcs, those cringey lines of dialogue, and random typos.
This does not mean I wait a month between finishing my draft before I edit. It does mean that if I am working on a deadline, I need to plan some time to take a step back from my project before I revise.
As a bonus, this break makes me less emotionally attached to my piece. Murder your darlings, and all that.
And as a side note, I’ve learned that this break is also important between rounds of editing.
In some cases, if I’m eager to jump into editing, I might be able to get away with editing right away: In longer pieces, there’s probably a part I haven’t worked on in a while that I can take a crack at revising.
All this said, I know I’m not going to completely ruin my work if I start editing right away. I just know it’s very hard to begin editing a work right after I’ve finished writing it. And the more I edit, the better I get at looking objectively at my own work, making it easier to edit right away—because sometimes there isn’t time to look at the work with fresh eyes.
I Can Edit in a Time Crunch if I Have To
I did just say it’s easier to edit if I give my work some time to be left untouched. But sometimes that time means the hours between when I go to bed and when I wake up. Sometimes that space means a few minutes away from my desk. Sometimes I’m on a deadline.
I’ve learned that if I have to, I can do huge overhauls of projects in very short amounts of time.
It’s difficult, but once I get into experimenting with a piece and into the headspace of aggressive editing where I become emotionally detached to the original version of the work, I can really get some serious editing done.
It’s not easy to get into that zone though, mostly because editing is hard and can be quite unpleasant. But once I’m there, I can be quite efficient. It’s a sort of crash course.
Knowing My Writing Weaknesses Is an Asset
Everybody has things they are good at and bad at when it comes to writing. I know that I struggle with adding detail into my pieces. Part of the problem is that when I’m editing, I don’t typically think my scenes need more detail, and I always error on the side of being worried about having too much detail.
As a result, when editing, I now add in more details, even if I think the scene doesn’t need them. I can always cut details later. Plus, sometimes it’s best to add in those details, come back with fresh eyes in another round of edits, and then decide if those details are necessary.
I’ve discovered these weaknesses by having other people review my writing. After sitting through several critiques, I’ve spotted patterns in feedback that I know are my weak spots.
In other words, it’s super helpful for me pay attention to where my weaknesses are so that I can adapt to them. Even if I can’t spot something, I can guess where my piece needs revisions and edit accordingly.
Keeping My Original Draft Makes It Easier to Murder My Darlings
I’m often worried about changing my drafts in case I make them worse: I might decide I liked something in my original draft better than the edited version. Or maybe something in that first draft will come in handy during a later editing stage.
This mentality makes it nearly impossible to experiment with a piece as I try to improve it.
That’s why I’ve learned to create a copy of the first draft so that I always have an unedited version to reference back to. This is also super helpful to do throughout the editing process so that I have a draft to go back to each time I plan on making major edits.
I Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Experiment
As I just suggested, I have a hard time experimenting with pieces. My inner critic often shuts down ideas before they even have a chance to fully form. This is a good skill when it comes to making fast, snappy decisions, working under a time crunch, or cutting a list down to feasible options.
However, when it comes to semi-reasonable ideas for my creative writing, sometimes I need to just write the idea into my piece to get the idea fleshed out so I can see if it will improve the piece or not.
Sometimes the process of implementing a bad solution is what results in my eventually finding a good solution: Even if I don’t like an idea, it might make me think of a better idea. And at least I eliminated a bad idea.
Editing in Levels Stops Perfectionism from Taking Over
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything I want to improve while editing. But just like my piece isn’t going to be perfect after the first draft, it’s not going to be perfect after only one round of edits. So, I edit in levels.
My first round of edits focuses on big picture matters: plot, character arcs, larger story points.
My next focus will typically be on details, scene building, dialogue, and other scene-level to sentence-level content issues.
After this, I turn to writing style. I fix any awkward wording and boring writing and work on making the writing style support the story.
My last round of edits is purely a copyedit: fixing typos, grammar errors, and any last minute changes like eliminating awkward wording.
Of course, if I find a typo in my first round of edits, I will fix it, and when I work on scene building, I will focus on using writing style to add to the atmosphere and details. There is some cross-over between the levels, and the levels aren’t a set rule: They are a guide that helps me focus my efforts and not get caught up in perfectionism.
As I’ve been editing my manuscript and short story project, these few lessons have been valuable, and I’ll have more editing lessons to share once I’ve finished these two projects.