When it comes to reading, our mind naturally fills in missing words, doesn’t trip up on wrong-word usage, and will oftentimes auto-correct spelling so that minor flaws and typos are rarely noticed, especially by the average reader. However, as writers, and especially those of us who are independently published, we must take on the role of editor and proofreader once the rough draft of our masterpiece is finished. When it comes to self-editing our own work, we all wear the ‘beer goggles’ that makes finding our own mistakes even tougher than usual. Our minds are not only auto-correcting due to the way our brains are hard-wired, but after the sixth or seventh time of proofreading the same passage, our ability to detect inaccuracies becomes even more diminished from sheer repetition.
So what is an aspiring writer to do when it comes to self-editing? Of course, you should always hire a professional editor to do final edits and checks, especially if you are independently publishing. However, as many editors charge not only by the length of the finished piece but also by amount of work that goes into fixing errors, submitting a piece that is as error-free as possible will not only ease the cost to your pocket-book, it will also ensure that the final product will be as neat and typo-free as possible.
When deciding to tackle the all-important step of self-editing, you will find that each writer’s approach to the task will be as varied as their writing styles and genres. There really is no right or wrong when it comes to self-editing. The best advice will be to develop a plan of action and then carry it out, find out what works best for you, and stick with it. Below I outline my own personal system of conquering this all-important step.
1. The once-over, just for fun – To begin with, I will read over my story/novel in its entirety, just for fun, doing brief edits to fix grammatical mistakes, typos, and story-flow. These are the obvious flaws, the ones that are so bad that they just jump out at the reader. I don’t do heavy edits or massive re-writes, but I do take notes so that I can come back to a section to completely re-vamp if necessary.
2. The time consumer, part 1 – On my second run, I go through the story line by line, paragraph by paragraph. I start out reading each line of a paragraph, looking for typos, wrong-word usage, missing words, and grammatical errors, as well as light re-writes. I do this for each line of a single paragraph. Once I go through each line, I re-read the paragraph for story-flow for JUST that paragraph. I go through the entire story this way, line for line by each paragraph until I have edited the entire manuscript for typographical and grammatical errors. This takes the longest amount of time and can get very tedious. However, I have discovered that by breaking it down like this, finding and correcting typos and grammatical errors becomes much easier.
3. The time consumer, part 2 – The Rewrite Sessions – I go through the entire story from beginning to end, this time doing all the massive rewrites taken from my notes from the first once over. I am careful to note where the rewrites start and where they finish, so once the rewrite on a specific section in the book is complete, I will go back through that whole section line by line, paragraph by paragraph, to edit for typos and grammatical errors. Once I have edited just that specific section for errors, I read through it for story-flow and the overall feel. I continue on in this fashion, doing the rewrites and editing those sections until I have finished all rewrites and edits for each of the sections.
4. The final read – The final edits are done by once again reading through the entire book for fun, checking for story-flow, inconsistencies, and overall feel, as well as any wayward typos or grammatical errors. Anytime I change something major, I will go back and do a final read through, so I can end up doing several final runs before I am comfortable with the end result and ready to send it off to my editor.