31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 23 – How Do I Edit My Own Work?

Are you guys ready to edit? Because today’s Day 23 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”, which means it’s time to learn how to edit your own work! I know, I know, you want to hop right into today’s lesson, but first I’ve gotta say… If you’re new here and you haven’t read the other 22 posts in this EPIC series, you can catch up here, or you can watch the corresponding YouTube videos here. Okay, now we can do this thing.

Editing. The act of going through your novel and finding and fixing errors, both big and small. There seems to be a very harsh line drawn in the sand when it comes to this little word. Either you love writing and hate editing, or you tolerate writing in order to get to the point where you can edit. Wherever you stand, though, I’m sure you understand that editing is essential if you ever hope to get your novel into the hands of readers someday.

“Yeah, I mean, I get that editing is important,” you say, “but if I’m planning on traditionally publishing, or if I’m going to hire an editor, do I really need to edit my own book?” Well, yes! If your novel is riddled with grammatical errors and plot holes, either a) an agent will take one look at your manuscript and toss it out the window, or b) you’ll have to spend thousands of extra dollars on a freelance editor. And I’m not joking when I say thousands of extra dollars. Freelance editors aren’t cheap, and the less editing you do, the more editing you have to pay them to do.

So how do you edit? I won’t lie, it’s a pretty arduous task. It’s definitely not something you can fly through in a day, or even a week. It will be worth it, though. While you’re editing, some things you should make sure to look out for are:

  • Plot holes
  • Underwriting or overwriting
  • Repeated words
  • Misspelled words
  • Grammatical errors
  • Writerly no-no words
    • For a full list of these words, check out this video by Vivian Reis (who is a fellow authortuber)

As far as the actual physical editing goes, I have a four step plan that I usually follow in order to make sure I’ve been as thorough as humanly possible. It goes a little something like this:

Step One: 
Start by going scene by scene. I like to read each scene to myself once silently, and then once aloud. Reading it silently allows you to experience the scene in the same way your readers will experience it. While reading silently, I tend to catch a lot of grammatical mistakes and misspelled words, plot holes, and I notice over or underwiting. Reading aloud gives you a better sense of how your writing actually flows. It usually helps me catch things like weird phrasing, repeated words, and the writerly no-no words.

Step Two:
Read through your full manuscript. Again, do this once silently and once aloud. Even though you went scene by scene and did this already, trust me, you’ll catch more stuff. Bigger plot holes, inconsistency with your narrator’s voice, etc.

Step Three:
Read the manuscript backwards (read the last sentence, then the second-to-last sentence, etc). This may seem weird, but it really helps you pick out those last, elusive grammatical and spelling errors by putting everything out of context. By the time you get to this step, you’ll probably have your story basically memorized, which is a problem because it’ll result in you skimming right over anything that’s wrong. When you read your story backwards, however, you’ll be forced to pay more attention.

Step Four:
Do one last line edit where you read the manuscript all the way through, only looking for grammatical errors and misspellings. I mean, even if you do all of this, I can almost guarantee that you’ll still find at least one typo in your final, published manuscript, but it’ll be ten times less typos than you would’ve had if you hadn’t done this last line edit.

I’m sure your next question, though, is when in the writing process should you do all of this editing? Well, step one you can do at any point in the writing process. You can do it as many times as you want, really. Trust me, every time you do it you’ll find something that you hadn’t noticed before. Step two should happen at least once before you send the manuscript out to your beta readers (who we’ll be talking about in tomorrow’s post). When you send your novel out to betas, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be coherent, at least. Once you implement your beta feedback, you should perform steps one and two again, and then you’ll be ready for step three. Do not do steps three and four before you get beta feedback, because things will change drastically and then you’ll have to do those steps all over again. Step three should happen after beta feedback but before you send your manuscript to a literary agent or a freelance editor. And step four should happen at the very end of the whole process, right before your novel is published.

Again, I know that this seems like a lot, but it really is worth it in the end. So far, for my (not yet published) debut novel The Caspian Chronicles: The Forbidden Prophecy, I’ve made it through steps one and two (step one multiple times and step two twice). Now it’s in the hands of my betas, and I know I’ll have to do it all again before moving on to step three. Does the thought fill me with dread? Well, yeah. But I want my book to be as high-quality as I can get it. Self-published novels have a pretty bad rap for being sloppy and unedited. I’m looking to break that mold with my novel. I want it to be so professional, people don’t even realize that it was self-published.

So, yeah, I fall pretty solidly on the side of the line that loves writing and hates editing. But I do it anyway, and you should, too. Break the mold. Blow away your freelance editor or the agents you query. Make them say, “Wow, this person worked really hard to make this novel the best it can be.” It’ll take time, it’ll take patience, it’ll take unwavering focus, but if you do it right, you’ll be the belle of the writing ball.

And that’s it for today. If you’re tired of me constantly mentioning beta readers but never explaining what they are and where you can find some, you’re in luck, because tomorrow, for Day 24, we’ll finally be learning about them! So I’ll hopefully see you back here again tomorrow for that!

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