‘Do I really need to hire a professional editor?’
When you are busy writing your first draft, you can definitely edit your own work. An editor is usually brought in only when you have a complete manuscript. Whether you’re at an early stage of writing your novel or you can’t afford to hire an editor at present, you can learn to edit your own work. Begin these 6 easy steps:
This break in between the time that you finish your novel and the time that you return to it for editing is essential for several reasons.
During the time that you are apart from your novel, your subconscious will still be working on it. You will be surprised at the types of connections that you’ll make on returning to the work. If you are a writer who edits as you go, taking small breaks between finishing sections like this can also help. Thus resulting in the growth of fresh story ideas.
Distance from the work allows you re-read with a fresh perspective. On returning to your novel, you will be surprised to find passages that you don’t remember writing; passages that affect you emotionally as though someone else were the author. I call this the ‘goosebumps’ factor (remember the scene in Romancing the Stone? If not, rent the movie).
With this re-read you will find weaknesses, plot holes, sentence structure that simply doesn’t flow, etc. Assessing your book realistically is easier after a break as well. While in the process of writing it, you probably experienced times when you thought you were writing an extraordinary novel as well as times of great self-doubt. Now your judgement will not be clouded.
Try not to think about your novel very much during your break (work on one of my other WsIP). If something does occur to you, make a note to come back to when you start your revision. Do not dwell on your new ideas. Calendar your re-read a week or two after completion of your novel.
- When you sit down to do your revision, you must first get organized both physically and mentally.
Prepare your work-space. Have your writing reference resources within reach.
Make a schedule for your revision just as you did for writing your novel. Set a goal and stick to it. Do you need a tracking system? Sticky notes? Spreadsheets, a notebook with sections and multicolored pens/highlighters, or a filing drawer?
Whatever planning you did prior to writing your novel, when you revise you will need to track things such as structure, characters, scenes and plot points to ensure that they all fit together. During your revision, you’ll need to do things like examine each scene to ensure that it moves your novel forward and does what it sets out to do. Your system can be as formal or informal as you like. The most important thing is that any editing system you use is intuitive for you and helps rather than hinders you.
You should make yourself a checklist for dealing with all the large and small issues you want to examine over the course of your novel. A romance novel, will have one thread showing the progression of the love story. A crime novel, will require clues are appropriately placed and reveal just enough to the reader. While science fiction or fantasy, will require world-building that is very solid.
4. Questions to ask yourself
· Does the book work structurally? If you followed some version of the three-act structure, did you maintain that structure and does it create a satisfying form?
· Does your plot make sense? What about the subplots? Are there any logical errors? Do the subplots work with the plot, or do they distract from it or make the book seem like too much is happening?
· Are your characters well-developed? Do they seem like they could exist as flesh and blood? Do they behave in ways that are plausible for them?
· How is your setting? Is it fully realized? Does it need more or less detail? Is it integral to the story?
· Are there places in the book where the narrative seems to drag?
· Do you deliver information to your readers in a way that is engaging?
· How is your prose? Are your sentences grammatically correct?
This is just a start; you will have your own questions you’ll want to consider. Once you’ve made your plan, it’s time to start the actual revision:
Editing is seldom a one-step process. First do a read through. Make notes, about problems, new ideas, structure, language problems. Don’t stop reading and begin revising. Just make notes.
Next, go through the book more carefully and address the major elements. (# 3) Use your checklists to look at plot, structure, character, setting and the other major parts of your novel. If you find that you are going to be doing major rewrites, you should work on those rewrites before you do any line editing.
After addressing any major issues and completed your line editing, take a look at your prose. It’s now time to read your book out loud. This may seem time-consuming, but nothing compares to reading a piece of fiction out loud for finding clunky phrasings, repetitions and other things that just don’t work (if I’m not careful, my characters spend too much time drinking coffee).
The final step in your revision is having others read your work. You may already have writing friends or belong to a writing group. Some writers(I) find it useful to ask my reader(s) to focus on certain aspects of the book. Remember readers who are not writers notice things, both views are valuable.
The value of having others look over your work is that they will spot mistakes or inconsistencies you might miss because you are so immersed in the craft of writing.
Editing and revising are not separate from the process of writing. They are just as important as writing drafts. Editing and revising will sharpen and strengthen your novel. After all, we want our novel to be ‘exactly’ a publisher has been waiting to acquire.