Should I Be My Own Editor?


Should I Be My Own Editor?

You’ve finished your magnum opus. Congratulations! Take a moment to savor but only a moment. You need to edit the manuscript so it flows as you would wish. And ask yourself whether you should be your own editor. As I’ve already mentioned, editing while you’re writing the story is a bad idea. But I think the question is not so much should you be your own editor as can you.

Can you be your own editor?

There are some obvious things you need. Being a good proof-reader, knowing what you are looking for, etc. But can you also do it psychically? Ask yourself:

Are you in love with your novel?

Of course, you can (and should) love it but are you in love with it? It’s hard to do a good edit if you are convinced that every word is a pearl, and any change would destroy the whole. You need to have enough perspective to edit effectively.

How do you react to criticism?

If your automatic reaction is Of course I welcome criticism, I’m talking to you. When others critique your work, do you consider or spend most of your time explaining why the comments are (a) wrong; or (b), if correct, irrelevant; or (c) if relevant, not useful.

A critical part of editing is stepping back to view the novel more objectively. If you don’t react well to others’ comments, it’s hard to imagine you’ll engage in effective self-critique.

Can you be fairly ruthless in editing?

Clint Eastwood directed Bridges of Madison County, starring himself and Meryl Streep.

They fall in love while dancing. Lovely. Then another dance sequence establishing the same thing. Also delightful. But then another and another and another. A total of five dancing-falling-in-love scenes.

Each scene established the intent and did it well. But five were not needed. It felt as if Eastwood was so in love with them, he couldn’t cut any.

Can you be ruthless and cut even excellent writing when it impedes the forward motion of the plot? A tough but necessary qualification.


If your answers to the questions above are largely positive, then upcoming posts will help you be your own editor. If the answers tend to the negative, you might consider

Using friends/writing as editors

Well, it’s possible but it can be a problematic route.

Honestly, unless you have exceptionally good friends/relatives or members of your writing group are willing to do a quid pro quo, I’d be disinclined to tap them for this somewhat onerous task.

I am assuming that you’re not paying them so the edit has to be on their time, in their style, and incurs a huge you-owe-me-one. This may not suit your sense of urgency.

If you are paying, you have to be sure they have the editing skills before you hand it over. Being a good and enthusiastic reader of your work doesn’t cut it. This is a technical job which needs technical skills.


Hiring an editor

This of course costs and you need to decide whether it’s a good investment. If you do, make sure that you have re-read, revised, and fixed up the manuscript first. You want the editor to come up with new insights, not pick up on things you should have caught yourself.


With all of its caveats, I have to say, I tend to prefer being my own editor (with some exceptions I’ll note in later posts). Yes, it’s a lot of work but it can also be fun and most importantly, you can take the novel in the direction you want. Next post: Should I Edit as I Go?