Authors can possess an effective tool for warding off indifference, criticism, or even outright rejection of their writing: self-editing.
Not all writers enjoy self-editing, but I think we should all try to develop some skills for it. Search engines reveal a plethora of articles, blog posts, and books on the subject, and I recommend that approach for all the advice and tips and tricks you can gain. I've even shared some on this blog. But I also propose considering self-editing along the lines of others-editing, before you hand off your work to an editor. Especially to an acquisition editor with the authority to decide whether to publish you or at least to encourage others to do so. Maybe even before you send your work to a beta reader team.
If your work is professionally published, it will most likely go through several levels of editing (and yes, the many different labels used among professional editors is confusing):
· Macro, substantive, developmental, or content editing: This is the view from 50,000 feet when an editor is looking at the substance of the whole work. Does it speak to the intended target audience? Does it make sense; hold together; present a logical flow-of-thought (or plot)? Is each chapter strong enough, or do some need work? Will the opening chapter or paragraph give the reader the most incentive to keep going, or is that incentive buried later—or even missing? In fiction, does the plot have gaps; are the main characters well-developed? Is the pace good? This is the editing level that can result in the author being asked to do some rewriting, maybe some reorganizing.
· Line editing: This level is my sweet spot as a professional editor. Paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word, the line editor works to tighten up writing to maximize the reader’s experience and reduce reader distractions. He or she addresses repetition, awkward phrasing, wordiness, lack of continuity or sense, gaps that need to be mended, points that need to be fleshed out, and so on. Often, he or she discovers problems created by rewrites. But that’s okay; those can still be fixed.
· Copy editing: I combine line editing and copy editing for my clients, but some houses separate the two. At its most basic, copy editing ensures consistency, that the chosen style guide has been followed, and that grammar, spelling, and punctuation are correct. Note: Proofreading is not editing, but a final task to try to ensure no error has been missed.
My advice is to wait until after you’ve written a draft that satisfies you before self-editing by level—and then wait some more. Hopefully you aren’t so close to a submission or posting deadline that you don’t have time to step away at least a couple of days, if not more. You need to gain perspective with fresh eyes and brain cells.
Then try self-editing level by level, one at a time. Ask yourself the same kinds of questions an editor will.
· Macro, substantive, or content editing: Does your content hang together? Are all the elements what they need to be to tell your story well?
· Line editing: Is your writing as strong as it can be? What needs to be reworked or addressed? What problem (such as a contradiction) might you have inadvertently created when you wrote your last draft?
· Copy editing: This level might not be your bailiwick, but you’ll be surprised what you find if you read with the intention of spotting errors. And do run a spell check!
As I said, you can find many helps online and in books to develop self-editing skills. And no matter what we do, every writer needs an editor. (You can probably find a problem with this post because I, uh, didn't have an editor or a proofreader!) But consider how employing each editing level—just as professional editors will—could take your self-editing to a new level of expertise and success.
photo credit: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=69478&picture=steps-against-the-wall
Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries
(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with nearly thirty years' experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.