Writer, Edit Thyself

Self-editing. Some days, it’s a pleasure – like sharpening your brain’s claws on some rough, craggy tree bark. Other days, it’s pure torture – you can feel every slash of the red pen as though it’s a scalpel ripping at your flesh. One thing’s for sure, though: no matter what kind of day you’re having, self-editing is an important part of getting a piece ready for its journey out into the publishing world. So here are a few articles to make the process less painful, more productive, and – yes, I’m going to say it – more fun.

The first article, “The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing,” comes from the highly-useful archives over at Writer’s Digest. Reading about these common self-editing pitfalls can help you identify your weaknesses when it comes to your own writing – and maybe, just maybe, learn to overcome them.

As far as my own self-editing experiences go, I’d have to say that “Gluttony” probably tops the list. Sometimes, I fall in love with a fancy bit of phrasing or a long, flowery paragraph that simply has no place in the story. Sometimes, the thing that needs cutting is the scene that was the inspiration for the whole chapter, or even one of my precious cool things. It’s hard for me to cut those things, even when I know I should. That’s why, in addition to self-editing, I also rely on outside readers for valuable feedback. My writing group doesn’t know or care how many hours I slaved over a particular paragraph. All they know is that the paragraph breaks up the flow of the story, and needs to be removed. When I see that fat red Sharpie “X” scrawled across the section in question, my heart can finally accept what the back of my brain knew all along – and I can, with one last wince of hesitation, finally hit the delete button.

The second article, “Picture Books: Plan, Polish and Publish,” comes from children’s author Dori Chaconas. She takes you through every step of the creative process, from the initial birth of an idea, all the way to the final polishing of the story prior to submission. Chaconas shares her own personal strategies for self-editing, complete with wonderfully-vivid “before and after” examples. She demonstrates how to refresh boring clichés and really make your language sparkle with originality. She shows you how to trick your brain into thinking you’re reading your story for the first time (and not the fiftieth), and even discusses her policy on accepting criticism from her writing group.

I came across this article years ago and instantly saved it on my computer because it was just so chock-full of useful strategies and tips. It was written as a guide to picture book writing, but the bulk of the information applies to all forms of writing, and authors in any genre will be able to find something to take away from this excellent piece.

So, go forth and read! Take notes! Copy and paste! Figure out what your self-editing weaknesses are and how to overcome them. Learn how to take a seed of an idea and turn it into the most original, sparkling and polished story you are capable of writing.

And then…submit it :).


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