10 Tips on How Not to Lose Your Mind While Self-Editing Your Book
10 Tips on How Not to Lose Your Mind While Self-Editing Your Book
Editing your own work can be an overwhelming and mind-boggling task. The words may seem to swirl on the page, and the initial spark that ignited your passion for writing can fade away amidst the frustration.
However, it needn’t be like that.
With a wealth of tips and tools at your disposal, you can navigate the journey of self-editing while preserving your sanity and emerge with a finished book to be proud of.
Let’s dive into 10 invaluable tips that will guide you through this challenging endeavor and help you stay on track when creating a polished masterpiece.
1. Ensure you’re finished writing
Before the editing process, it’s crucial to ensure that you have truly completed the writing phase of your book. Many authors fall into the trap of continuously tweaking and revising their work while attempting to edit simultaneously. This can lead to a never-ending cycle of revisions, causing frustration and hindering progress.
To avoid this, set a clear boundary for yourself and define what it means to be finished with your writing. This could include reaching a specific word count, concluding the story arc, or accomplishing the goals you initially set out to achieve. By establishing this endpoint, you give yourself permission to transition into the editing phase with a focused and fresh perspective.
Remember, self-editing requires a different mindset than writing. By ensuring you’re truly finished writing before embarking on the editing journey, you set yourself up for a more effective and efficient editing process.
2. Take a break
Put simply, you can be too engrossed in your work, so sometimes the right thing to do is to step away from it. By taking a break before you begin the edit, you create some distance between yourself and your writing.
This allows you to see the errors more clearly and to notice the mistakes that were not obvious when you were staring at the same pages every day.
No matter how good of an editor you are, there will be things you miss every now and then (just check out the first edition of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone for the perfect example).
However, these errors are less likely when you’re looking at the writing with fresh eyes.
3. Have a checklist
As you begin the edit, make sure you have a comprehensive list of the various elements that your work requires. This checklist acts as a guiding compass, ensuring that you address all vital aspects of your book, including protagonist development, thematic consistency, character motivations, and any other elements specific to your story.
By having a thoughtfully crafted checklist readily available, you can navigate the editing process with more efficiency and effectiveness. It allows you to approach each revision task systematically, preventing you from overlooking crucial elements and ensuring a thorough examination of your manuscript. Unlike the initial outline, this checklist should be created at the end of your first draft, capturing valuable insights and lessons learned throughout the writing journey.
4. Re-check the initial outline
As you embark on the self-editing journey, it’s essential to take a step back and reevaluate the initial outline you created. Your outline serves as a roadmap for your story, guiding the progression of plot points, character arcs, and key themes.
Start by revisiting your original outline and comparing it to the manuscript you’ve written. Take note of any deviations or areas where the story may have veered off course. Evaluate whether these changes have enhanced or detracted from your overall vision.
By rechecking the initial outline, you gain a clearer understanding of the structural integrity of your book. Analyze the pacing, plot development, and character arcs to ensure they align with your intended narrative. Look for any gaps or inconsistencies that may require additional scenes or revisions.
This process allows you to realign your manuscript with your original vision, providing a solid foundation for the subsequent rounds of editing. It helps you maintain a sense of direction while ensuring coherence and continuity throughout your book.
5. Zoom out
When we say, ‘zoom out,’ we mean stop focussing on the smaller details and consider the book as a whole. Are all the plots neatly tied up and all the questions within them answered? Have you completed the story in the way that you envisaged, or does it require further edits and attention?
By taking a look at the book as a whole, you can answer those questions and ensure that you have a completed work. It’s important that the story feels connected throughout.
6. Zoom in
After you look at the book as a whole, it is also worth zooming in and considering the intricate details within the story.
If your story is based on true events, then look at your dates, times, and locations. Even if it’s entirely fiction, you will want to ensure that details are consistent (unless, of course, inconsistent detail is part of your story’s intrigue). There is nothing worse than starting off a book with a protagonist whose characteristics inexplicably change throughout the story.
7. Read it aloud
Some of the best advice is usually also the simplest. Reading your work aloud can give you an idea of the tone and pacing of your work, and it will also help you spot any silly little typos that you have missed.
When you are reading your work, pay particular attention to any dialogue that sounds clunky or unnatural. You can even read for different characters in different voices. Just don’t do it in a public place, or people might start assuming things.
8. Enlist a trusted friend
Fitzgerald had Hemmingway, while Tolkien had Lewis; if peer editing was good enough for four of the best writers of all time, then it’s good enough for you. In fact, the list of legendary writers who used their friends as sounding boards for their new work is close to endless.
You can do this by working with a friend whose opinion you respect, allowing them to look at your work and give honest feedback.
They will likely give you tips that you never even thought of. It’s a great way to understand what readers will think of your work and what areas will need the most attention during the edit. It’s also a great way to spot plot holes that you never even considered.
9. Use digital resources
When it comes to editing your own book, the array of online resources available is extensive, offering excellent options to maintain your sanity throughout the process. Among these resources, Grammarly stands out as a tool to help you identify and rectify simple grammatical typos within your manuscript.
If you prefer a comprehensive approach to self-editing, ProWritingAid can assist greatly. This powerful online writing assistant analyzes your text for a wide range of writing issues, including grammar, style, readability, and more. It provides detailed reports and suggestions to help you improve your writing and ensure your book is polished to perfection.
There are plenty of other tools that could help you on the way — AutoCrit, Reedsy, Scrivener, etc.
Online writing and mentoring courses are also great resources you could explore. They offer aspiring authors the opportunity to receive guidance and expert feedback from experienced mentors in the writing industry. Engaging in mentoring courses can provide invaluable insights, techniques, and strategies for effective self-editing, further bolstering your confidence and refining your manuscript.
10. Realize that perfection is the enemy
Most writers tend to feel like they are losing their minds when editing their own work because they never feel like they have completed the process. However, perfection is the enemy of completion.
In other words, there comes a point where you just have to be happy with the job you have done and call it a day. We are not suggesting finishing your edit before you reach the last chapter, but rather stepping away from it if you are on the 50th edit of the 10th draft.
At that point, the book is probably as good as it’s ever going to be and it’s time to take care of your sanity.
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Harry Bingham is the founder of Jericho Writers, a company offering writers expert editorial assistance. He has written a variety of books over the years, notching up multiple six-figure deals and relationships with each of the world’s three largest trade publishers. His work has been critically acclaimed across the globe and has been adapted for TV. He’s also written non-fiction, short stories, and has worked as a ghost/editor on a number of exciting projects. Harry also self-publishes some of his work, and loves doing so.