I Finished My Novel! Now What? (Part 3): Self-Editing

Part 1: Advice from a Published Author | Part 2: Proofreading and Beta Readers

We’ve come to the part in this series that makes writers tremble in their slippered feet: the dreaded revision stage. I think revision is only thought of with dread by those writers who don’t understand how freeing it is to chop and cut your words to get your manuscript down to the best draft of itself. Is it terrifying? Yes. Does it take a lot of time? Most definitely. But it can be fun too, if you let it be.

If you read Part 2 of this series, then you will have already found 2-4 beta readers to give you constructive feedback on your work. Once you’ve stopped crying about that fact that they didn’t, much to your shock, think your book was perfect as is, you get to work.

One of my favorite writing websites, Write to Done, recently published a fantastic article on this very subject where they outlined 4 steps to successful revisions. Step 1 was to have a game plan. I always tell authors that you can’t just jump into editing without a plan. First, realize that revision takes time, and therefore, you are not going to be able to change everything you want to change on the first try.

I’ve heard authors complain about how long the revision process takes; on the flip side, I’ve had authors proudly tell me that they only spent 3 days on self-editing. This is not something to brag about! Some of the best, most successful published authors took years to finally decide they were done revising. Do you think George R.R. Martin takes 4 or 5 or 7 years between books because he’s sitting poolside drinking a glass of wine? No! He’s revising and editing and cutting and rewriting until it’s perfect.

All that to say, you need to have a revising plan. It doesn’t have to take years, but it will take longer than a few days, so be prepared.

What I suggest (and thankfully Write to Done agrees with me) is to fix all the larger aspects first. Change up characters, create new scenes, and write new dialogue first before you do anything else. Why? Well, because otherwise you’re wasting time correcting grammar on sentences you’re going to delete during further revision anyway.

Once you get the larger plot issues taken care of, you can do another pass for individual scenes and then a final check to correct the commas and apostrophes and other little details that may have slipped by.

As I mentioned in my previous post in this series, 2-4 beta readers is recommended. It may seem like more feedback = a better book, but there is such a thing as too much feedback. Likewise, there is such a thing as too much editing. If we’re honest, we could all spend every day until our death revising and editing. At some point, you have to hit “publish.” Knowing how much to revise and when to stop is the mark of a good writer and author, but it does take practice.

I wrote about some great resources for self-editing in this post on recommended writing books and this post on more recommended writing books. It’s important, I might even say essential, to read about writing and editing before you attempt to do it. Even while you are still writing your book, you can be learning about how to self-edit, so when the time comes you’ll be ready.

Next up in this series: Professional Editing

For more on the topic of self-editing:

5 Self-Editing Tips: How to be More Objective about Your Own Work

How I Edit: Tips from a Former Literary Agent and Published Author

How I Self-Edit My Novels in 15 Steps

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