I have a confession to make. Editing puts me to sleep. Seriously. Sometimes I’m in the middle of self-editing my manuscript—my baby—when boom! My head hits the keyboard. It’s embarrassing, but you know, I’ve read the story sooo many times is it any wonder my mind is wandering?
One day the nodding off scared me. My mind hyperventilated—started popping out questions about my writing prowess. Like…Why am I falling asleep? What if my book is THAT boring? What’s wrong with the plot? Is it not fast-paced enough? Are the plot devices trite and overused? Are the characters unrealistic?
When my heart rate finally slowed, I realized the plot didn’t bore me. No! My muse and I created the story with loving care, blood, sweat, and tears. Okay, maybe no blood, but there were a few tears. It had to be editing. Yeah, I’ll blame it on editing.
Writing a fresh story is fun. The characters practically create themselves. The conflict forms out of their personalities and their choices. The dialogue flows as I hear in my head what someone would say and how they would say it. The plot thickens at just the right time. I love writing.
I don’t love self-editing. I work with a wonderful editor, but my goal is to have my manuscript as shiny as possible before I submit it to my publisher. I want my editor to buff and polish, not do major surgery on the heart of the book.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about self-editing. No worries, this isn’t going to get technical with a dry list of the Unbendable Unbreakable Rules For Aspiring Writers.
No matter how many times I’ve edited a manuscript, I can always find something else to “fix”.
I’ve obsessed over passive voice, verb tense, POV head hops, filtering, showing vs. telling, and the bane of my existence, comma placement. But no matter how many times I’ve gone over my story, I can always find an omitted word. And homonyms? Argh. Similarly spelled or similar sounding words will do me in. Their and they’re. Here and hear. Even now and know. Did you know the spelling and grammar check on Word won’t alert me when I use the word “his” instead of “he”? Or “form” instead of “from”? Or when I’ve used the word “look” five thousand times? (That seems to be my favorite word.) The first draft is a very rough draft. Every time I learn a new concept, the added knowledge requires another review of my manuscripts.
Self-editing is a structured, and therefore, a highly redundant process.
I find it overwhelming to tackle the abundance of concepts I should remember when I’m editing a manuscript, so I have to have a plan. I’ve started going through my stories in several passes. In the first pass, I check for grammar and punctuation. I let the manuscript “rest” for a while and then in the second pass, I check for consistency and plot continuity. In the third pass, I look for redundancy, filtering, head pops, and telling. On my next but not necessarily my last pass, I read the story aloud to someone, checking for flow, credibility, and glaring inconsistencies.
This creates a lot of repetition. By the time I work through it this often, I know my story so well I can quote it in my sleep.
Edits should never be attempted at the time of day when I’m most susceptible to falling asleep.
No, it isn’t midnight. I don’t know what it is about editing in the afternoon that makes my eyelids droop and my mouth stretch into a wide yawn. The same thing will happen if I try to read in the afternoon, so it’s not just my stories. Thank goodness.
My most productive time of day is…well, right now. It’s 10:44 pm CDT and I’m churning out this blog post without a single yawn or drooping eyelid. Editing at three in the afternoon? I should know better. The middle of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is usually when I beg my wonderful hubby to brew me a fresh pot of coffee so I can try to stay awake. I’ve learned to give it up and watch another episode of Law and Order on Netflix. At just about nineish, either my editing conscience will kick in or my muse will jump up and down in front of my face and I’ll grab my Mac and tear up the keyboard.
I should always start the process with a fresh attitude and a fresh pot of coffee.
Tackling the tremendously time-consuming job of editing a 55k+ manuscript is something that should never be approached when I’m in a foul mood. I give myself down time between editorial passes so I can refresh my attitude. A strong pot of fresh coffee always helps my sensibilities and I can tackle the job with renewed enthusiasm.
When I discover a new concept in generally accepted writing style, I shouldn’t knee-jerk and start editing every unsubmitted manuscript on my hard drive.
When I first discovered the concept of POV and head hopping, I dusted off all fifteen of my unpublished manuscripts and went to work. It was painful, because after that I discovered the concept of showing vs. telling and the process started again. Then I heard the term filtering for the first time…
Well, you get the idea. Now I work one manuscript at a time. After all, I can only submit one at a time. Right? Two at the most. If both stories were contracted at the same time, then there would be all those edits at the same time and then…
I truly believe the editing phase of a WIP is where most writers give up. I don’t love editing and I don’t love falling asleep in the midst of it. Self-editing is a necessary process and one a writer should embrace with determination and persistence. As a writer I want my finished product to be the best it can be, but I can’t do what I need to do effectively if I’m half-asleep. So…If I start dozing, somebody wake me up and pour me a cup of coffee.