– William James
We all have difficulty with change. Perhaps it’s human nature, the desire to leave unchanged the fruit of our work into which we put so much of ourselves.
We are all hopeful our written words will stand the test of time, bringing the story we want to tell directly to our readers unedited, pristine, and pure as it formed on our mind’s eye when we conceptualized the story we choose to tell.
Therefore, many writers, and most often beginning authors, find themselves reluctant to edit their own work.
Me, not so much. I benefit a lot from the editing portion of the program, and yet, I, too, despise change. I don’t, however, see editing as change. I see it as improvement.
If you do home improvement, try this analogy: it’s the finishing coat of varnish on a perfectly handcrafted piece of custom furniture. It’s not anything that really changes your work, it simply makes it better. Like the exotic mustard on a special sandwich, or the whipped cream on the home-made pie.
Is it always needed? Not always, but it should always be considered. Not for the changes that lie in the editing itself, but for the improvement of the story that makes it better than the original draft.
Therefore, learning self-editing is so important. When we don’t believe we can trust others to change our work, we need to understand how to take the task upon ourselves. More difficult? Yes, but infinitely better than the perceived butchery of other less skilled hands.
But an editor trained and certified can be a godsend for the inexperienced writer. For the experienced writer, an exceptional editor is a “must have”. Unedited work languishes on the shelf and the no-man’s-land of forgotten books is where the stories we cherish, nourish and coax into life go to die an ignominious death.
Early on, we as aspiring writers need to learn that not all criticism is adverse. When we receive an evaluation of our work in progress by an overwhelmed critique partner, casual reader, or beta reader who works without specific direction, the results can be disastrous.
Critique partners are a valuable asset, as any writer can attest. Too often, especially in the beginning of serious writing, it takes time and perseverance to find the partner who recognizes your shortcomings which need weeding out of your writing habits.
The best fit is a critique partner who not only points out the shortcomings in your writing, but who can suggest some methods to change the pattern of your writing. Often, beginning writers cannot give full reign to their imagination. This results in difficulty finding your authentic voice.
Others spend too much time and energy on needless details. Often, as writers starting out, we are often blessed with experienced writers who will help, but sometimes we are afraid to ask when we get brushed off by a famous or successful author. It took me six months to gather the courage to ask, “what does RUE mean?” I should have told myself much sooner, it’s okay to ask a question, especially at the beginning. *RUE shorthand for resist the urge to explain. This advice is invaluable to writers who need to avoid author intrusion into the storytelling.
When we offer too much irrelevant detail or cannot supply the imagery that takes a reader inside the story, or worse yet, rely too heavily on clichés, we are not offering the escape a dedicated reader looks for in the book.
Lack of technical skill, which results in poor grammar, is disturbing for many readers. As a writer, if you don’t respect grammar rules, how can you promote yourself as a writer? This also pulls your reader out of the story, encouraging them to put down your book and look for an escape in someone else’s novel.
Note here the story of J.R.R.Tolkien, who admonished his editor who told the author he misspelled “dwarves”. When an English noun ends with a single “f” in the singular, the “f” changes to “v” in the plural, as in: (“‘Dwarves’ or ‘dwarfs’ – which spelling is correct?”)
Calf–calves; half–halves; wife–wives
There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule, e.g.,
Roof–roofs; chief–chiefs; oaf–oafs
I passionately believe a writer cannot be objective when editing their own work, and therefore I choose others to do this for me. On the first pass, a trusted critique partner to point out flagrant flaws. On the seconds pass, I use a checklist of simple things we rarely see in our own work on the original draft. Then I let it sit while I work on something else, fermenting, if you will, like fine wine. (Oh, the delusions of grandeur!) But like all writers who aspire to true success, I hire an editor. Sometimes expensive, always valuable, forever necessary.
For those who believe they cannot afford editing as an outsource, there are many programs to aid the writing, such as Fictionary.co. For the last pass, if you’re not absolutely, positively capable of lethal criticism, I recommend paid editing. Both developmental and copy editing are necessary if you want to be perceived as a serious author. Nothing like hearing the unvarnished truth from an industry professional. Make sure it’s someone you trust and respect. You’ll need to value the opinion you’re paying for, and then maybe you’ll learn to edit yourself in a clear and objective fashion.
When you are self-editing and can carry out these basics, you can often reduce the cost of professional edits. But you should accept at the outset you cannot live without your editor.
Imagine standing in the forest and being unable to find any trees. Ridiculous? I think not. Can you tell the difference between the spruce, the oak, and the elm? I’ll bet you can’t. There are layers to our knowledge of language, storytelling, and the craft of writing. Learning the craft is an ongoing process and accepting you will always need the independent and objective eye of a trained editor is necessary for your success.