I have a love/hate relationship with self-editing. When I am nearing the end of a writing session (I never edit while I write) I can’t wait to edit. I am excited to take that mould of text-clay and shape it into something I can be proud of.
When I am through the third revision, hate is the prevailing emotion.
To make editing bearable, interesting, and effective, I have these four techniques I use every time. Techniques that can apply to all forms of writing.
1. Let it Ferment Before Editing
There is no coincident this comes first. This is, by far, the most important technique. It helps your writing immensely, but it’s also good for your sanity.
We get blind when we edit. Not literal, if you do you really need to take a break. No, we get blind in our own work. Maybe we see it as the best piece of literature ever written, or history’s worst placement of random words in succession.
We create filters. When we read the same words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters over and over we filter out the good and/or the bad. We skip words and fire our editorial brain without knowing it.
Before, and after each revision, you must put it away for some time. Your goal is to flush your mind. Work on another project or take a well-deserved break while the fermentation process is running.
Put it in a drawer and throw away the key. I promise you that when you look at it one week later, the music might be noise, and the pile of dirt can hide a diamond. I also promise that someone has magically broken into your drawer and sprinkled your document with grammatical errors and bad flow.
I recommend leaving it alone for a minimum of one week. And the longer the better. If you write shorter pieces, you can shorten the fermenting process, but try to at least have a day between revisions. I hurried to write this on a Wednesday because I wanted to edit it on Saturday. I thought it would be an easy edit, that I nailed it on the first go. It’s Saturday when I am editing this, and I can tell you that it wasn’t an easy edit.
2. Put your Pen Down
You have just broken into the drawer and pulled out your manuscript after letting it ferment for a week. It lays in front of you, and your pen is shakily hovering only inches above, ready to paint the script with angry blood-red lines.
Don’t. I want you to just read. Put that pen away for now.
Read the story. Don’t bother about terrible sentences and grammatical errors. They are supposed to be there. That’s for later.
You want to focus on the big picture, the story. Are there any inconsistencies, does the story float naturally, is the pacing right? These are questions you need to answer (and fix) before you do anything else. When you have the framework in place, you can pick up the pen and start stabbing the papers like a pent up maniac.
3. Print it Out to Edit
Sorry trees, but I highly recommend printing out your manuscript. If it is a short piece or a blog post (like this) you may do on-screen edits. But if you have time (and conscience); print-it-out.
This is my formatting recommendations. They are very detailed, but there is a reason for it. Cross my heart and hope to die.
- Side margins: Left = 3,5 cm or 1,4 inches / Right = 4 cm or 1,6 inches
- Line spacing: 1,5 cm or 0,6 inches
- Don’t use pre-defined headings or any other fancy formatting. Stick to bold and italics.
- Insert page numbers if you have over two pages.
Now you have a clean and prepared manuscript lying in front of you, waiting for you and your pen. You have room on both the left and right side for notes, and you have room in between the lines to mark it up.
We are always best when we start. Editing is a muscle, and the more we stare at the paper, the more we tire. And on page 20, our brains are exhausted. But what about that last paragraph? The paragraph you read while thinking about the Netflix series you are excited to binge when you are done. And on the next revision, you do the same again, ending on the Netflix paragraph.
Don’t discriminate your text.
Flip it upside down. Start the second editing session with the last paragraph. You have already checked the story, consistency, and pacing. You can do 20–1 once in a while.
After you have done all your revisions, make sure someone else looks at it. If it’s a book, I highly recommend investing in professional editors.
These techniques are not groundbreaking trade secrets. But it’s what I, after 20+ years of trials and errors use every time, without exception.
Now, go edit something I can enjoy reading!
Ses! (Norwegian for seeing you later)
Tommy is a father, husband, fire engineer and a bureaucrat. In daytime he appears to be living a normal nine to five life, but at nighttime something happens. He put on his cape with the letter P embroidered. P for passion. He’s been writing for over 20 years, and his books and novella’s has millions of trusted fans all over the addict. He has finally decided to test his writing on a heavier audience, and his loyal dusty particles have to wait until he fails at the living audience. Tommy is working towards his first book-release in his native language (Norwegian), a geriatric crime novel, and he has secretly been working on a seasonal, episode-based fun mystery series, a funstery, that is due to release in fall 2020. Stay tuned. You can find Tommy on:
I have watched Tommy grown over the last couple of months into an accomplished writer. He writes on many subjects and has had me chuckling on several occasions. His It Annoys Me series, has you go oh yeah that annoys me too on many occasions. I urge you all to check out his other work.