Go Edit Yourself

Okay, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to pretend that you’ve finished your manuscript. So, now what? Do you submit it right away for publishing, let someone else take a look at it, or what?

Some of you already have an answer for this. You may have a beta reader or copy editor at the ready. Or, you might know a professional editor for a publishing company who is all too happy to have a look at your work for free and make changes (if so, don’t bother reading further, but I have a feeling not all of you have an awesome editor on hand like that). But if you’re stuck on what to do or the editing process is getting to you, try my method.

I have an idea that this is a common method among successful authors, and it seems to work for me, too (a semi-successful author…I’m getting there, damn it). You may find this works for you.

Put your manuscript away.

Don’t look at it for six weeks to eight weeks. That’s right. DO NOT GO NEAR IT. Treat it as if it’s carrying a plague. Don’t touch, think, or even glance in its direction. Go play. Enjoy your hobbies. Write something else. Work on your other projects. Set a chewing gum record. Anything you can do other than looking at the 50,000+ words you’ve just written.

You need a cooling off period. Why?

Because this manuscript is your baby. You’ve written thousands of words getting your story to just exist. To make sure your characters have their say. To wind up a plot that will, hopefully, make the reader feel something — whether that’s fear, laughter, tears, etc. doesn’t matter — you worked hard to create a piece that’s as engaging as it is -fill in the blank-. Therefore, you need time away from it.

Even if you don’t have a message to tell the world, you have a story to tell, and there are parts of it that might be intensely important to you that just aren’t pertinent to the tale you’re weaving. That’s why you need to give yourself some space.

It will help you be objective for that first cut.

For me, that first revision is the toughest. I used to try to go after it right away, and would almost always find that I didn’t want to cut or add anything. I would insist that it was ‘just fine’ the way it was.

Luckily my partner was able to knock the rose-colored glasses right off my face (metaphorically. She doesn’t hit and I don’t wear rose-colored glasses anyway.). She suggested the ‘cooling off’ period to me after something she remembered that a very successful author said (I can’t recall who it was now, but am fairly sure it was Stephen King).

Giving a manuscript time to cool off so you aren’t as in love with it is important to editing. After I took her suggestion, I found I was far less enamored with certain parts of my work than I was with others, and I found places that needed more details. I was able to cut more out and make better decisions. I had a clearer head.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to know what parts to keep and what to lose, but it’s certainly easier than just barreling through it all willy-nilly.

Two things to do once your writing is done:

  1. Leave it alone for two months…six weeks, minimum.
  2. Go edit yourself…after that period of time. Get it ready for another person to read.
After that, grab your copy editor or beta reader and let them have a turn at it. You might find you’re much more satisfied with the results.
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