Self-edit like a pro: Don’t be one editor. Be three

In a new series of blog posts, I look at how you can approach editing your own work in a similar way to how professional editors approach their clients’ work.

You’ve finished a draft. Yay! Go you! Seriously, go you. So many people never make it that far. But you’ve still got a long way to go. You know that, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

It’s very tempting to finish a draft, then sit down and go, right, let’s fix everything that needs fixing. I know. I’ve definitely done that.

But there’s a reason professional editors offer different levels of editing – broadly speaking, there’s story-level editing, stylistic-level editing, and then the fine-tuning copy-editing stuff – and very few will offer or attempt to do all three at once.

One reason for that is because it can be a waste of time – there’s no point agonising over comma placement in a sentence if the whole scene is ultimately going to get deleted. But it’s also because you have to think differently. To look at the issues that can arise at story level, you need to be thinking about pacing, plot, structure. You need to consider how the story as a whole is going to work for the reader. Sentence- and word-level editing need much closer attention to detail – should this word be hyphenated? How does that read if I split this long sentence up into three short ones? Those are quite different mindsets to be in, and it’s not easy to switch between them. If you’re trying to tackle too many problems at once, it’s likely you won’t give each problem the right kind of attention. If you need to get a good idea of what your pacing’s like, you’re going to get slowed down by a passage with lots of typos, and therefore your idea of your pacing will be skewed. If you’re focusing on the nitty-gritty of spelling, you might not notice a huge gaping plot hole.

So, to make sure you’re editing effectively and not getting overwhelmed, imagine yourself as three different editors. First, send your manuscript to your developmental editor (you) and read through your manuscript focusing on making sure your story works. Then send it to your line editor (also you) and think about how your paragraphs and sentences flow. Then send it to your copy-editor (again, you) and hunt down as many errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation as you can. Later in the series, I’ll look at the kinds of things you might want to look at in each of these rounds and how.

And, as I always say, editors deserve to be properly compensated for their work. So make sure you reward your editors (you) with plenty of biscuits.

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