History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek


A couple of weeks ago at Spocon, I was on a panel on self-editing with Kat Richardson, Alex Fedyr, Grivante, and Elizabeth R. Alix. Here’s a distillation of some of the wisdom we dispensed.

  1. First, finish what you’re writing, whether that is a novel or a story. There’s a lot of temptation to tweak as you go, but there’s also a good possibility that some of what you’re tweaking will be wasted effort, if you’ve spent a lot of time perfecting a scene that gets cut. So write first, edit second.
  2. Make sure to get some distance from what you’ve written. If it’s something short, just sleeping on it can help. If it’s a longer piece, the more time you can give yourself (without completely losing your momentum on it), the better.
  3. Reading aloud helps you catch the things your eyes normally glaze over. I find that reading with another human is the best, but you can also use a text-to-speech function to have the computer read to you. Don’t have a text-to-speech function on your software? TTS Reader is online and free, and you can even give it a PDF to read. Also, you can have it read to you in a British voice, which is my personal favorite.
  4. Some software has editing assistance built into it. Not all of it is created equal. Don’t just follow blindly what your software wants you to do, but use it more as guidelines. Microsoft Word, for example, is designed to follow the rules of business English. But creative writing doesn’t need to follow those rules. You can turn off spell or grammar checkers while you’re writing if that helps.
  5. If you don’t have built in editing assistance in your writing program of choice, you can also find a lot of good programs online. Grammarly and ProWritingAid were both recommended. And of course, many authors love Scrivener. (I’m not one who has jumped on that train yet!)
  6. Some also choose to use non-technological aids for their writing and self-editing. Other authors recommended The Emotion Thesaurus and other titles by the same authors. There’s also value in knowing what words you tend to overuse and searching for those to check yourself.
  7. It may take several passes through your work to get it to the best it can be. In general, taking separate passes for different elements is advisable, and also pacing yourself so you’re not trying to push through the whole thing at once. But, at the same time, it’s important to recognize that you can spend AGES on editing, trying to make everything perfect, but if you keep at that, you’ll never finish. Sometimes, it’s better to reach a point where it is extremely good and done, rather than perfect and forever being tweaked.

And of course, it goes without saying that professional editors are always a great help. But by self-editing your work before it goes to a professional editor, you give them a cleaner product to work with, which means that they can focus their attention on the smaller details you’ve missed rather than big picture stuff that you could catch through self-editing.


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