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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Conference Takeaways on Self-Editing

The NCWN conference packet and schedule.
Photo | Elizabeth K Humphrey
This past weekend, the North Carolina Writers' Network held its fall conference nearby. An editing colleague and I put on a workshop about self-editing. Here are five (of many) takeaways from the conference and our session:

Skills Can Be Important. Before I headed into my session, I chatted with a woman who had self-edited her manuscript. She studied English and technical writing in college, but she said even she found editing her own work difficult and a more lengthy process than she thought it would be when she started. Even with her skills, she continues to find errors and wonders why she didn't catch them when she edited.

Editing Styles Are Important, but Not Essential in Self-Editing. During the workshop, different editing manuals were mentioned. One group of attendees started asking about the variations and how to learn the styles. With self-editing, one of the things we stress is keeping work consistent and clear. Readers generally notice the inconsistencies and lack of clarity in writing, not which style you've applied to your writing.

Readers Are Great, but Know Their Limitations. We all need readers and having friends read through out manuscripts is a super idea. But don't confuse having a reader with having an editor. The majority of readers are not reading to make sure you've used the Oxford comma consistently. One issue that one attendee discussed was having six friends reading his work and often agreement was lacking among the six when it came to punctuation.

Lots of Options for Editing. One attendee mentioned that she has hired the author of eighty books for her manuscript. Another person uses the manuscript services provided by the writers' network. Hiring an editor and self-editing are not for everyone. Know your limitations, but also understand what you are getting when you are paying for any of the services. Other attendees questioned hiring the author of the eighty books simply because they wondered who had done her editing and if such a writer could be a good editor.

Genres Matter in Editing. I believe I can absolutely edit most anything that crosses my desk. But do I want to? No. I've never really enjoyed reading science fiction, so I'm not going to be a good fit for science fiction writers. But I can be a good resource for getting recommendations for you because I know editors who work in different genres. If you are self-editing, be aware of the conventions for your genre.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in coastal North Carolina. She wishes everyone a terrific Thanksgiving and she feels thankful for WOW!


  1. Two points you made here really hit home--self-editing and not catching all your mistakes--I wind up self-editing a lot--blog posts mostly, but once I hit that publish button, I almost ALWAYS see a mistake. It is almost impossible to see ALL of your mistakes. Our brain is reading what we think is there.

    I also agree with the genre thing. This came up one time when I was in a critique group with multiple genres. We were discussing if we were giving the historical romance writer good advice or not because many of us didn't know the genre. Good writing is one thing, but many genres have their own rules.

  2. *SIGH*

    Editing was already hard enough for me, and now you have to go and point out there's actually something called an "Oxford Comma?" All I know about that thing is from the Vampire Weekend song, which I now realize is perhaps not the best way to learn punctuation. Then again, if Noah & The Whale would do a song about semicolons, I would be the first in line to buy it.

    YES YES I know with iTunes there is no line. It's a figure of speech or something. A metaphor? I'm in over my head, here.

  3. OK, I went to your link. I'm not really an Oxford Comma guy. I'd say I'm more of a Tulsa Ampersand.


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