Write, write, write.
How many times have you been told that, to become a writer, you just have to write?
It’s true, of course. Your primary task as a writer is to put pen to paper, so to speak. Sit down and write, and that’s it. Write consistently, write every day. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 500 words a day, or 800, or 1,000; the important thing is to sit down and firm up your ideas by putting them down to paper (or Word file).
Once you’re done writing, once you have written the final word and are satisfied that nothing else follows, you can heave a sigh of relief that your book is finally finished. It’s out of your head and ready for everyone to see and read.
Do you then consider your job done, and send the manuscript off to your publisher?
No, no, no.
When you’re finished writing, the first part of the process is done, yes, which is putting your book to paper.
But it’s not the final step. Far from it.
In fact, writing that last period in your manuscript is just the beginning of the publishing process. The next part is as important as finishing the first draft, and that is self-editing.
“But I’ll hire an editor, why should I edit it myself?” you might protest.
Well, newsflash: first drafts are not fit for public consumption. No professional writer publishes their first draft, no matter how good they are!
The first draft only serves to concretize your ideas, give structure to your story, and provide a meaty outline to your book. It’s actually the process of producing the second, third, or nth draft that takes your writing from meh to great.
This journey to perfection (or at least, to publication) starts with self-editing.
Once you are done with your first draft, you have to go through it from beginning to end to catch the most obvious mistakes, like incorrect grammar or typographical errors. In the process, you may also get a chance to spot story inconsistencies and fix sloppy writing.
You’re not expected to catch everything, of course. As the writer, you’re too close to your work to give it the editing that it needs. So when you are done editing your work, and have revised it for the second or third time, you can pass it on to either a professional editor or to a friend to read.
One common concern writers have, however, is that it’s hard for them to edit their work. That’s completely understandable. You’re so familiar with the text that you oftentimes can’t see even the most glaring typographical errors.
Well, here’s the secret to self-editing: let a day or so pass before editing your work.
Once you finish your first draft, set the manuscript aside. Close the document, turn off your computer, and go take a walk, play with your pets, or attend to work that has nothing to do with the written word.
Let a couple of days pass. Don’t look at your manuscript and don’t even think about it. Empty your mind of the work you just finished.
Note that with blog posts or online articles, you may only need a few hours of being away. With book-length work, however, you definitely need several days to give you the objectivity you need to be able to edit it like an outsider.
Another secret to self-editing: print it out.
If you have a printer, print it out. Seeing it on paper gives you a bit more objectivity. Be prepared to chop down your work; don’t hesitate to cut long sentences, remove unnecessary paragraphs, and even nix whole pages. Yes, it’s your baby, and yes, it hurts, but as a writer, your message will shine through better without all the fluff.
If you have hundreds of pages and printing is impractical (or you’d just prefer to save the trees), save it as a PDF file and use Adobe’s read aloud feature. Make sure to keep the Word document open as well so you can edit as you listen. Reading your work aloud, or having someone or something read it aloud, will make you aware of what needs to be changed.
Once you’re done editing your work, it’s time to send it off to a professional editor. (We happen to know a pretty good crew of word nerds if you’re looking for someone… 😉 )
Well, no matter how good you are at self-editing, you will always miss something. Always. Once you’ve gone over it once, revised it, and gone over it again, it’s time to send it away and let other people take care of it.
A professional editor can help identify the weak spots in your work, the inconsistencies, and even suggest style changes. A good editor can also help you identify your common mistakes, so that the next time you self-edit, you already know what to look out for, whether it’s the tendency to use too many exclamation marks (!!!), or a liberal use of so, that, and other totally unnecessary words.
So congratulations on finishing your book!
Remember, the journey has just begun.
Take out your red pen now and start slashing.