Self-Editing for Writers

17 08 2013

I’ve been an editor since I learned to read, always finding errors and mentally rewording awkward sentences. (Isn’t awkward an awkward word to type? The k surrounded by ws just feels so…awkward.)

Self-editing can be a whole different ball game.

To help me stick to my guns, I purchased the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. With chapter titles like “show and tell” and “point of view,” it seemed like it would offer straight-forward and applicable instructions.

It does. According to chapter 11 “Sophistication,” I’m a hack. Several of the sentence variants I rely upon in my writing have been overdone and thus are considered immature by many editors (the authors of this text included).

When you’ve just completed your degree in English and Literature, this sort of insult incites the arched back of a territorial kitty. I was the outstanding graduate, so how can I be a hack? I’m still processing that information. It doesn’t take me to a happy place.

It occurs to me that the things I learn from Browne and King can be put into action when I get to Step 6 of my rewrite. You can imagine that after my reaction to chapter 11, the second one I read, by the way (who reads a book in order if it isn’t fiction?), I am less than thrilled to continue my study of this text.

I have also noted on several writing blogs I follow that hiring an editor is recommended, even for those seeking traditional publishing (which is my plan at the moment). Since story structure seems to be an area where I’m weak, I am considering having a professional check that for me – once I finish the rewrite.

Do you feel writers can edit their own work to an acceptable level if they’re going the traditional route? I can see a definite need for a professional edit (and proofread at the end) before anything is self-published.


Rewrite – Revise – Rework- Retire

13 10 2012

The best writing is rewriting” – E.B.White

It has come to the attention of this blogger that rewriting is not the same as revising. In fact, reworking might resemble revising, but it is a horse of a different color. Can you tell it makes me want to retire?

No, not retire from writing. Retire from rewriting – or maybe reworking. In any case, if I want to create a masterpiece, I had better stick to the revising.

Then revise it and rework it

Rewriting, according to Peter Elbow, author of Writing with Power, one of the textbooks for my feature writing class, is exactly what it sounds like. You write the thing again. No, you don’t cut and paste and rearrange things. That’s revising. To rewrite, you pick up your pen, pencil or typing utensil and write the whole thing over.

Uh – a three page essay might get this treatment, but surely he doesn’t expect the whole novel to be rewritten?

Most of us know something about reworking. This happens when we have all the nuts and bolts of a story on the page. We’ve even done a decent job writing using concise and powerful language. But something’s missing. It’s not smooth sailing from start to finish.

This is where reworking comes into the picture. That cut and paste feature on the word processing software burns rubber on those pages. Roget’s Thesaurus sidles up beside this flurry of activity and offers up unique verbiage. A minute amount of excess fat gets lasered off in the process.

For writers, it’s revising that makes us look professional. Revision is the process of looking over or manuscript in order to correct and improve it. Fatty scenes that add nothing to the plot meet the delete key. Passive language scampers off the page, chased by its active counterpart.

Every scrap of writing that’s meant for an editor’s eyes should be revised five or more times. I can hear all my students whining in unison over this pronouncement. And you, dear reader? What’s your response to such an astronomical estimate?

I have to wonder: is writing ever done? I know I can always find some way to improve what’s been written. The first read-through is probably about glaring errors and the story line. On second glance, I’m circling weak verbs, over-used words and repetition in types of sentence constructions.

Writing is never done. It’s just due.” –William Zinsser, On Writing Well

I haven’t even focused on making the language sing yet. There’s no chance this writing is ready to meet an agent or editor.

Of course, it might be time to retire. I mean, put the manuscript on the shelf for a week or two and work on something new. When you pick it up later, you’ll be able to look at it with fresh eyes and see weaknesses in the prose that went unnoticed before.

What’s your advice on revising? Do you ever rewrite? How helpful is reworking? How do you know when it’s time to retire the manuscript (maybe forever)? Your opinions matter on this blog.

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