Improve Your Self-Editing Skills in One Simple Step
If the drafting process is daunting, the editing process is a nightmare!
With the story out of your head and down on paper, it's time to define and refine your novel's character development, plot arcs, settings, and themes; polish your prose for flow and reader understanding; find and fix all of those little inconsistencies and technical errors; and so much more.
That's certainly enough to leave even the most experienced writer shaking in her boots (I'm certainly no exception!).
But while the editing process is by no means an easy task, there is one simple thing you can do to improve your skills for a quicker and more efficient edit: maintain objectivity.
If you've been floating around the writersphere for a while now, you've probably heard a few words said about maintaining an objective eye. But what is objectivity and why do you need it? And how can you gain an objective eye and use it to your benefit?
All excellent questions, my friend! So keep on reading, because today we're answering all of that and more for an epic introduction to objectivity. Ready to get started?
What is objectivity?
If you're looking for a dictionary definition, objectivity is the truth found outside of human corruption--be that bias, emotion, ignorance, etc. If we take this concept and apply it to writing, maintaining objectivity means looking at a manuscript through the eyes of its future readers, rather than your own.
When you're self-editing, it's easy to forget that you know everything there is to know about your story. Elements that may seem obvious to you, such as your hero's motivations or the general setting of the story, may be completely lost on your readers.
If you don't make the appropriate changes to ensure your readers understand and enjoy the story, you're going to have a hard time publishing and marketing your novel.
You may encounter trouble in finding an agent or a publishing house to take on your work, marketing your novel to interested readers, or getting word about your novel to spread. And worst of all, readers may simply not enjoy your story, which could spell doom for your reputation as an author.
But don't go running for the hills just yet. While the snowball effect of trying to publish a poor story can be terrifying, I highly doubt you're planning to settle for anything less than spectacular, right?
That's why I'm going to teach you the secrets to editing with an objective eye. By doing so, you'll take strides toward creating the magnetic appeal that will help launch your novel into the public eye.
But before we move on to talking about how to gain objectivity, here's a quick side note: Do you ever think everything in your novel must be painfully obvious and therefore boring to your future readers? That's also a result of a lack of objectivity!
Remember, you've spent months–maybe even years–working on your novel. You know it inside and out, better than anyone else.
Your future readers, on the other hand, have practically no idea what to expect when they crack open your novel. Everything you fear will be boring is likely to be just the opposite!
So keep on writing, friend. You're doing just fine.
Tips for Gaining an Objective Eye
Now for our second question of the day: how does objectivity work? How can you gain and keep an objective eye while editing your manuscript?
I will say this: it's not easy. As authors, our heads are always spinning with ideas. It's easy for us to get lost up there, to forget we have to put ourselves in someone else's shoes for a time in order to better our stories. After all, they're our babies. We don't want anyone else to see them until the time is right.
But if you want to write the best possible version of your novel, you must find a way to get inside your readers' heads and think from their perspectives.
How can you do just that? Here are a few of my favorite techniques:
1. Take a break between drafts. The longer you work on a piece, the more engrossed in it you'll become. That is why it's so important to take a break between each draft of your novel. You need this time away to pull yourself out of the story, to give yourself a bit of distance from the details.
I recommend taking two weeks off at the very least, though one to three months is optimal. During this time, you can work on a new project or try out a different style of writing. You can even put your very first drafting cycle into place!
Once you've taken ample time to detach yourself from your novel, it's time to dive back in. But don't be too hasty! Before beginning to edit, take some time to think about your ideal reader. Who are you writing your novel for?
After you've identified that person, spend a bit more time thinking about what they want from your novel. What kind of characters and plot do they enjoy? Do they like stories that comment on a deeper theme? What is an immediate story turn-off for them?
Answering these and similar questions should help you gain a better understanding of what changes you need to make while editing in order to write a novel your future readers will adore.
2. Create a questions list. Okay, friends. This is an ultra-tedious task, but SO worth it in the end. Consider yourself warned.
In order to better see your novel through your readers' eyes, take the time to write down every question they might have while reading your book. Here are a few sample questions to give you an idea of what that might look like:
1. What is the hero's appearance?
2. Who is the sidekick related to?
3. Why is the villain such an evil person?
4. Where is this story taking place?
5. Will the hero's friend ever forgive her?
These are just a few broad sample questions. I recommend working through your manuscript page by page to write down every single question your readers might ask.
This will certainly take you a long time–you'll probably end up with several hundred questions–but you don't have to complete this task all at once. If you're editing your novel chapter by chapter, feel free to write down the questions as you go.
Once you have a completed list, it's time to reread your manuscript. Look for answers to the questions on your list. Once you find them in your manuscript, go ahead and cross them off the list.
By the time you finish your reread, any unanswered questions should be obvious. Simply review the questions you never crossed off your questions list! You can then go back into your manuscript and add in the appropriate answers.
3. Write with a specific person in mind. I talked a bit about editing for an ideal reader in tip #1, but I'd like to rehash the issue a bit more here. You see, the reason many novels fall flat is because they try to appeal to too wide an audience.
Writers often think the best way to set their novels up for success is to please as many potential readers as possible. This is a big mistake!
Let's just clear the air here: you will never please everyone. There will always be people who hate your books, who leave bad reviews on your listings and trash talk it (and maybe even you) on social media.
This happens to every writer. Every. Single. One.
Don't believe me? Look up a few bestsellers on Amazon. See the one-star ratings and reviews? See the horrible things some people say? Sure, the four- and five-star ratings far outweigh the ones and twos, but the fact remains that there will always be people who hate your work.
The lesson here? Don't try to please everyone. Instead, focus on identifying and writing for an ideal reader. This will help make your novel an incredible and highly-memorable read for the readers who truly love the story you have to tell.
4. Be intentional as you edit. Writing a novel is a mind game, or–as I've said in the past–a marathon of the mind. It's just as much about your determination to see it through to the end as it is your natural storytelling skills. Because of that, your mindset plays a huge role in the outcome of your novel.
If you write with a mindset that says "Ugh, this story is terrible. It'll never go anywhere.", then guess what? That is exactly what will happen!
The achievements you make imitate the attitude you take, and there's one mindset in particular that will truly hold you back from achieving your fullest potential: "I'll just do my best."
I know that sounds strange, but allow me to explain. "I'll just do my best," says you've already attained all you'll ever have to offer. It says you know the breadth of your skills and that's all you have to give. This is dangerous thinking!
I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: there's no gold star in writing.
You can always be a better author tomorrow than you are today. And that is why it is so important to strive for more than just your best. Because your best as it is now won't be your best forever...
At least, not unless you decide to stop learning and growing and striving to achieve your dreams.
But hey, you're reading an article about objectivity on a writing website, so something tells me you aren't looking to settle anytime soon. *high fives* So instead of working with the "I'll do my best" mindset, make sure to edit with this in mind:
I'm going to work with intention.
The intention to grow. To improve. To be better a writer each and every day.
That is what you can do today in order to better your tomorrow. Don't just hope for the best; set intentional goals for improvement and break them down into the actionable steps you'll take to achieve them.
That's how you make your dreams come true!
How can you work to see yourself improve?
When you use these techniques to gain some objectivity as you write, you're going to see your manuscript improve. As the editing process becomes less intimidating, you'll gain a clearer understanding of the revisions you need to make and the kind of story your future readers are looking for.
You'll become a revision ninja, chopping away at your manuscript with a clear plan in place. And before you know it, you'll have a refined novel worthy of bestseller status.
Of course, editing isn't simple, and neither is gaining an objective eye. It certainly won't happen overnight, but the good news is that it does get easier.
With a good amount time and effort, you will cultivate the objectivity you need to become a self-editing rockstar. You'll be able to approach the editing process with confidence, knowing you have the skills it takes to revise your novel for success.
Are you ready to take this one simple step to improve your self-editing skills? What techniques will you employ to find and maintain your objective eye? Tell me all about it in the comments below!