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De-Constructing the Self Editing Process

by Kerry Kerr McAvoy

It took ten months to write the rough draft of my latest memoir. With the final touches finished, I wrapped up the last chapter with a sigh of relief. The first of several hurdles in telling my story was done. 

But before the self-edits could begin, I needed a break. The tale I’d been writing had taken a severe emotional toll, and I was exhausted. 

Not everyone needs a break before beginning the self-editing phrase; it’s essential to pay attention to what works best for you.  

I like to step away. I’ve found a four- to six-week break gives me enough distance to approach the piece with fresh eyes. When I pick up the manuscript again, I feel recharged and ready for the editing phase. 

Depending on your plans, this stage will look different from writer to writer. Are you planning to self-publish or to publish traditionally? The self-publishing route will require more work since you will be doing the job instead of the publisher’s cadre of editors.  

The number of editing passes will vary as well. Some writers make three to four passes; I do a few more. Though there’s no right way to the process, there are some common errors to watch out for. 

They include: 

  1. the balance of show vs. tell
  2. the overuse of adverbs and adjectives
  3. using too many sticky words
  4. an over-reliance on dialogue tags
  5. inclusion of details, scenes, or descriptions that don’t advance the plot

A great trick to identifying troublesome spots is to read your piece aloud. This technique is an excellent way to locate clunky wording, awkward descriptions, or useless fillers.  

You may want to consider using alpha and beta readers. For the first time, I’m using an alpha reader. She is reading along with each chapter’s edits and providing immediate feedback. This benefit has allowed me to identify difficult spots so that I can make rapid changes. Beta readers can offer practical observations about the plot, characters’ likeability, and the story’s believability. 

Once this step is complete, I’ll turn the manuscript over to an editor. She, then, will take a pass through the piece and provide a combination of line and content editing. I’ve worked with her before, which gives me enormous confidence in the outcome. 

Good editors often are in high demand. Be sure to reserve yours in plenty of time. 

Writing a book occurs in stages. Self-editing is essential; in fact, it’s my favorite phase! It takes an awkward, problematic piece and turns into something lovely. You may edit and revise multiple times and include others. 

Don’t rush this stage. It often takes longer to complete than writing the rough draft. It is a crucial step in transforming your initial idea into a lovely tale shared with the world.

Worksheet: Ready to Start Self-Editing?

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