Award Winning Fantasy with a Twist!

How & Why You Need To Edit Yourself!

Every once in a while, there’s debate on the internet about the role of editors. Everybody pretty much agrees that good editing is essential, but professionals want paying (as do we all!), and how are you supposed to afford? (Again, most of us!) So today I’m going to weigh in on the argument and try to explain why you specifically need to edit yourself!

When I first published Feeling Lucky, I not only knew nothing, but was overwhelmed by the whole process. I was happy to find an editor and publisher and was even happier when that editor suggested removing large parts of my manuscript! See, throughout the submission process, I would get questions or suggestion from agents or publishers and add more in. What I didn’t realize at the time was that a lot of that feedback was more people thinking out loud in reaction to the story than something actually missing. So I had almost 10,000 pages of exposition that I got rid of when my editor actually pointed out examples of ‘this is showing’ vs. ‘this is telling.’ So lesson one: knowing is one thing, understanding is another – ask for examples of what the editor wants!

However, 6 years later, as I review the book in preparation for reclaiming my rights and going wide, I realize I misunderstood something else. When my editor said repetition, I eliminated a lot of dialogue. Okay, yes if someone says ‘uh-huh’ in response to another, that’s the only necessary response. But if someone says ‘uh-huh’ in response twice, that actually tells the reader something about that character. Three times may be too much, but I had inadvertently eliminated a lot of the flow, even some character development.

So I went back to my next to last version and edited from there. Some things can be eliminated easily up front. One trick I recommend to all my students is to reset spelling/grammarchecker and run it again; I’ve even gone so far as to simply accept every change so that the words are different enough to be a fresh read. Even after 6 years, I can still hear some scenes as vividly in my head as if I watched them on the big screen. It’s hard to see past that to the words on paper!

The next trick is to use search to find every overused word and replace it. For example, I search for the word ‘said.’ It’s actually the simplest way to indicate who’s speaking, but you don’t need always need a dialogue tag if it’s clear in the sentence or paragraph who’s talking. And since I’m scanning for just the word and not reading the entire context, it’s easier to determine if the dialogue can stand alone. The other thing I look for is if there’s a bit of description that can replace ‘said.’ For example:

  • Original – ‘I worry about you,’ he said, frowning in anxiety
  • Alternate – ‘I worry about you.’ He frowned, anxious and tense.
  • Or – ‘I worry about you.’ An anxious frown wrinkled his brow.

Massaging a word here and there like above can not only smooth your text, but also really nail down the effect or meaning you’re going for. I also use search and replace for things I know I have issues with. For example, I use past participles a lot. So I search for ‘ing’ and change as many verbs as I can from ‘was walking’ to ‘walked’ and make my story more active.

The 2nd trick I recommend is to get your computer to read out loud to you. When you’re listening to another voice, your attention focuses on that and any discrepancies in the text will jump out at you. I find it’s enough of a distance that I even notice things like a missing comma or quotes. Text to speech is built into most systems and software:

This is when I hear the repetition, when I use the word ‘thought’ or ‘smiled’ over and over, frequently in sentences right next to each other. Then I use search to find all instances of that word and substitute. The goal again is to mix up the original wording just enough that my mind sees what’s on the page instead of what I remember.

Editing ends up being a stop and start process for me. If you need to read a second time, text to speech comes in multiple voices. Besides scanning for specific words, I’m looking for smooth flow and clarity. One area where I find the story sounds wordy is prepositions. In first drafts, you spell out all the locations and details, but in the final, it’s frequently clearer just to say ‘he went up the stairs’ as opposed to ‘he went up the stairs to where the second floor landing opened up at the back of the house.”

Once you’re at the editing stage, with the bulk of the story where you want it, you have to be careful not to make major changes, but I had added in some detail to make my crossover fantasy more romantic, but reading them again after time and distance, the traditional romantic exchange was more out of character for my goofball leprechauns than added depth. And that’s a judgement I had to make. You want the reader to understand what you’re writing, but you have be the one who tells who they are. After all, who knows your characters better than you?

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