10 Rules on Self-Editing – Basic First Draft editing – The First 5

Congratulations!  There are probably more than 10 rules to self-editing. You’ve finished writing your novel.  You should be proud of the accomplishment.  Basic 1st draft / self-editing is your next step.  Everyone wants to write a book, but few actually put pen to paper and try.  But just hold on there.  I’m going to spoil your day and I won’t apologize.  Actually, you’ve only written a first draft.  It’s probably an unreadable mess.  Can you fix it yourself?  Should you?  If you don’t care enough about your work to properly edit it, you deserve whatever bad reviews you get.  These reviews will haunt you, staying online for a long, indeterminate time.  With traditional publishers and agents you are giving them ammo to shoot you in the head and putting you out of your misery.

Self-editing a first draft is like representing yourself in court.  A writer who edits him/herself has a fool for a client.  You don’t have an overall view of the case yet, you can’t possibly be objective, you will internalize too much thereby driving yourself and everyone else crazy, and will probably incriminate yourself.

Asking friends and relatives to edit your work is a bad idea; they’re not qualified and they won’t be honest with you because hurting your feelings is not what they want to do.  However; if you do ask for their opinion they will love your work thereby providing encouragement to your ego.  Editing is hard work but must be done.  I’m sure you’ll still find errors in my eBooks but they’ll be minor and won’t interfere with the flow.  Basic 1st draft editing will do it for you.

RULE # 1 – Finished the first draft?  Wonderful.  Every writer and writer guide will tell you to put your feet up and stow your manuscript for at least a month.  It’s good advice.  Give your prose some thought, an overall big picture thought from start to finish.  Better yet, don’t give it any thought.  You must resist and not go back to it.

RULE #2-  Writing is a creative process.  You do not need distractions of any sort.  Turn off Spell Check and Grammar Check.  Let your mind go and it will take you on a journey. If you use a pencil,  a mechanical one keeps the lead flowing along with your words.  Writing is an art and the art is drawing the readers into your world seamlessly with all the imagery, dialogue, and characters that inhabit it.  It is essentially, painting a picture for a blind person.  Editing gets rid of speed bumps providing a smooth ride for readers.

RULE # 3– Do not show your first draft to anyone.  This includes my writers group.  Don’t bring us first drafts.  They are ugly because it’s the nature of the beast.  The art is in the editing: adding color, characters, imagery, sharp dialogue, pace, structure, tension, etc..  If you are bursting with pride that you actually completed a novel and prematurely spring it on some unsuspecting reader your ego risks an ass-kicking.  And deservedly so because it’s likely crap.  This will depress you and provide a too-easy excuse for giving up.

RULE #4– Go on the offensive.  It gives me great pleasure to attack little words like was.  You should now be prepared to spend time using your word search.  When you search with the following words you should have them automatically highlighted in color.  As you scroll along through your work look for concentrations of colors and reduce accordingly.  Search for was by using the word find option.  You can replace probably 70% of them by restructuring sentences.  An example of not attacking was can be seen in a sample download here:  http://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/15808/4/illegal-fun-under-the-sun

“There were a lot of cops around but there was not much they could do. The teamster’s position was that it was just a traffic accident and that the guns were legal”

Sorry about that, Chris, I gotta call you on this.  You got lazy.  I found a lot of other errors there, too.

There must be thousands in his story, this paragraph especially annoying: “I was living in this ratty little apartment with my high school girlfriend. It was the first place either one of us ever had and it was a real wakeup call. It was 1969. Jimmy Hendrix had just died and Janis was about to go, in the next year. Everyone who was anyone was getting high or so it seemed. The war in Vietnam was raging and I was seriously thinking of burning my draft card. It was a crazy time.”

Yeah, it was crazy.  Do you really want family and friends to read something you wrote appear like this?  Come on, be a pro, show some class.  Show them you didn’t write this on a serviette or during a Vietnamese sleeper bus ride.

RULE #5– Don’t be intimidated.  You may have flopped in high school English but you didn’t use Spell Check and Grammar Check there.  Technology makes it simple.  Basic stuff.