Self-editing: Where do I start?
|Credit: Sidewalk Flying | Flickr|
- More time. Okay, so not eight more years. But before reaching into the drawer to pull out the manuscript, I would take some time to think about what the novel is about. Not what you thought the novel was about so many years ago, but what you think the novel is about. As if you were recalling The Great Gatsby. Describe the main character and his or her motivations. What is the conflict in the novel? Sketch out a basic idea of the plot. Although you may not have touched your novel since 2005, I'm positive your brain has worked on it some, maybe even working through some of the plot issues. Capture that before you start editing.
- Read it! I'd like to offer the advice to keep your pen down the first time you read through, but I find that difficult to do. To keep you from marking up or rewriting during the first go-round, promise yourself to only use a highlighter to indicate where you think there may be problems (punctuation or other difficulties). With a highlighter, you won't be able to change and rewrite like you might with a red pen. It will also allow you some fluid reading time. If you need to note something, do so on a notepad during your first reading. (This is something possible electronically, as well.)
- Study your notes. Before you take up the red pen, study the notes you've made to determine if the plot or characters' motivations need adjusting. Note if there are any big picture changes you can make.
- Start editing! Keeping your notepad by your side, now you can start editing. Tackle one chapter or section at a time. Don't try to tackle the whole manuscript in one sitting as the frustration may force you to throw it back in the draw. During the edit, refer often to your notes and make more notes to keep the consistency throughout. Pay particular attention to the highlighted areas.
You're in a different place now. Take your novel there with you.
Do you have a self-editing question you would like answered? Just ask in the "Comments" section and I'll do my best to answer it in my next post.
Elizabeth King Humphrey is a North Carolina-based writer and editor. She earned her master's in creative writing from UNC Wilmington and her editing certificate from the University of Chicago, Graham School.