You’ve done it. As you type “The End” and move your mouse up to the little “Save” button in the corner, you feel like running down the street screaming “I’M AN AUTHOR! I’M GOING TO BE FAMOUS! I’M SENDING MY MANUSCRIPT TO (PUBLISHERS/AGENTS/EDITORS) TOMORROW! YEAAAAAAHHHHH I’M AN AUUUUUUUUUUUTTTTTHOOOOORRRRR!”
This jubilant response is not wrong— it’s just premature.
Once you finish the first draft, it’s like you’ve browned the taco meat but haven’t added the seasoning. For your book to be seasoned, it’s going to require that you take some emotionally painful measures to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward. Before sending it out into the world in any professional or official capacity, take your manuscript through the following steps of self-editing:
1. Put some distance between you and your manuscript.
No one— and I mean no one (I’m talking to you, Anne Rice)— can see something they wrote objectively. When your manuscript is freshly written, you’re going to see it even LESS objectively than you might later. The first step to effectively self-edit is distance. Give it at least a few days, if not weeks or months, before reviewing your manuscript so you can see the issues as clearly as possible.
2. Read your manuscript backwards and out of order.
Reading your work out of the natural order allows you to see your writing with new eyes, to question the sequence in a way you might not otherwise. It also takes your focus off of the structure so you can pay closer attention to the effectiveness and correctness of each individual line and word.
3. Invite your smart and thoughtful friends to help.
Host a reading party with cheese, crackers, and juice! Pass the chapters of the manuscript around in a circle, allowing several people to edit each section. Even when you put distance between you and your manuscript, other people will see it like you never could.
4. Kill your darlings.
Chances are you “overwrote” the first draft. Every writer does. There’s no such thing as good writing— only good rewriting. To rewrite well, you need to remove sentimental attachment to different words, phrases, or passages, and truly analyze their effectiveness. Don’t add, cut. When you have your reading party, you may wish to have your friends suggest cuts wherever they feel necessary/the pace gets bogged down.
5. Read aloud.
Finally, after you’ve read your manuscript backwards, sideways, and out of order; hosted your reading party; and made all the necessary edits that have resulted in a new, cleaner and fresher draft, it’s time to do the final check. From beginning to end, by yourself, read the manuscript aloud. Notice any passages where you stumble, and polish them. When you force yourself to read each word aloud, you will notice misspellings and typos that your eyes glossed over before.
Writers: What tricks have you used in editing your own work? We’d love to hear from you!