Saturday, May 2, 2009

Seeing Our Work With the Reader's Eye

Self-editing is one of the most critical parts of the creative writing process, and one of the hardest to master. Over the last year, I read and critiqued a dozen memoir and fiction manuscripts. All were excellent stories, worthy of publication. All contained at least two of the most common bad habits writers have. In all cases, the issues appeared over and over throughout the manuscript.

I do the same thing in my own work. My editor caught me using the word "back" over and over in my most recent manuscript. My characters stepped back, leaned back, turned back, sat back, looked back, and talked back. Thank goodness for the Find function in my software. I also look for really, pretty, and just. Other authors wear out actually, softly, and carefully.

It's not only word repetition, however. Other habits include overuse of a favorite sentence structure. Perhaps using series of three over and over, or connecting two separate sentence thoughts with a comma and the word "and." Or maybe it's the muse striking a bit too often, resulting in overly clever metaphors on every page.

Training ourselves to see our work with the reader's eye is difficult but essential if we want to produce a polished manuscript. It helps to let a manuscript rest for a few weeks before tackling the final edit. Another helpful approach is to ask your critique group to nitpick, and listen to them. Read a couple of good books on self-editing. One I recommend is Don't Sabotage Your Submissions by Chris Roerden.

Good self-editing can make the difference between acceptance and rejection when submitting to agents or editors. Learn to see your own work as a reader instead of the author. It's a different way of reading, and it works.


Anonymous said...

Good post with some solid advice. Aspiring authors MUST learn good self-editing practices. I have a couple DHR's (designated honest readers) that I have read my ms's after my first self-edit - then I take their feedback into consideration as I go back over it for the final polishing self-edits before sending the book off to the publisher.

Marvin D Wilson

Anonymous said...

Helpful post -- This is such an important process for us writers! And I like how you give specific examples of what to watch out for. I'm taking it to heart!

K. A. Laity said...

Great advice here. I have become much more aware of sentence structures, as I tend toward long discursive sentences. When I notice them piling up a little too much, I try to remember to use a little variety. Short is good!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Thanks for posting on editing. I find that spending too much time with my manuscript can make me blind to its faults! It's almost like walking past the clutter on your end table so many times that you don't even see it any more. I've found that reading my manuscript aloud can help, too.

Jina Bacarr said...

You are so right on with your advice! Self-editing is an indispensable tool in the craft of writing. I've written plays and found that learning how to edit your dialogue to get the most from the least is also important.

©DGreer said...

Patricia, do you have time to join The Blood-Red Pencils? It's a group blog you might fit into nicely. Link below.

Look forward to reading more!

Dani (yes, it's me;)

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks to all of you for checking in. It sure is more fun to write a blog when we know there are folks who will read it (even if it is a class assignment).

Self-editing is as important as writing a great story. New authors with wonderful ideas can destroy their chance at publication if they don't learn this final step. I'm still learning.

N A Sharpe said...

Great post and terrific advice!

NA Sharpe

Anonymous said...

Loved your post and the important lesson it shared.

'Actually' is one I'm aware of (over)using in my own work, but now I'll look out for more, esp. sentence structure thingies (I'm sure there'll be many of those kind!).

Thanks for sharing some valuable advice with us fellow writers - and I agree, writing a blog is so much more fun when there are READERS :-)

All success
Author: "Think, Write & RETIRE!"

Patricia Stoltey said...

In response to Dani's request, I've attempted to turn off the comment validation requirement. This is a test to see if I was successful.

Karen Walker said...

Hi Patricia,
Thanks for this post. Self-editing is one of the hardest things to master and this short post gives some of the best advice I've seen on the subject.

Karen Walker