I Love Self-Editing
In recent posts, I’ve talked a lot about the self-editing you need to do to your draft manuscript. I fear your spirits might be sinking at the amount of work which looms ahead.
It can be a lot of work. Unless, of course, you’ve decided that every word is perfect, every character fully developed. Then we have a problem of a different sort. But assuming you have identified scenes to fix or write, it may be discouraging. It might even disincline you to do anything further which would be a great shame.
So I am here to tell you that actually, self-editing is fun. Yes, fun. I love to do it, maybe not more than writing itself, but it’s right up there.
This post will try to convince you to take on editing as an adventure rather than a drudge.
Editing seems to be largely about taking out stuff and putting other stuff in. Both are fun.
Self-editing: the taking stuff out
This is more often the copy editing phase. You are looking for the normal grammar, punctuation, missed and extra words. But in addition, there is seeking out and destroying the clumsy bits always in a first draft. Like the “hello, how are you”s and the tortured way you got the character out of the room. Rereading makes you realize you could simply stop the scene rather than have her get up from the chair, say her good-byes, move to the door, take the elevator to the ground floor—you get the picture.
Although this may sound weird, I get a positive thrill in lowering the word count. So much so that I actually track the number cut. Useless, no? But it provides a great sense of satisfaction. I don’t know why, it just does. And this is not just the crazy lady talking—many writers really get into this.
Fundamentally, I think self-editing appeals to my latent Napoleon complex. I am in complete control. I can do anything I want. I can push events around wherever I want. I have the power of life and death over my characters. See, Napoleon.
Self-editing: the putting stuff in
The other part of editing is identifying what is missing. Often scenes needed to clarify the plot or develop a character more fully.
While they probably take more brain power and imagination, these putting in parts also have their appeal. For one thing, you usually have a relatively short scene to write. You already know where you want to go so it is much more doable than writing the full sweep of the novel.
Because in these concentrated bits you already know what you want to accomplish, it allows focus on the quality of the writing rather than juggling plot, character, flow, and theme as you typically have to do when you wrote the novel originally.
There is an unexpected pleasure in having all the pieces of your novel and being able to reconstitute it in a way which is stronger, more elegant, and just plain better.