How to Improve Your Self-Editing in One Simple Step
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Struggling to feel confident in your self-editing skills? You're not alone, writer.
Both big picture revisions and tedious line-edits demand that writers consider countless facets of their work, from plot and character arcs to settings, themes, character development, and world-building, then on to dialogue, diction, sentence structure, tone, voice, atmosphere, and beyond. It's no wonder so many writers approach self-editing with extreme trepidation.
And while there are many techniques that can help writers approach revisions and line-edits with confidence, there is one especially powerful trick that I want to break down with you today: maintaining an objective eye. What is objectivity exactly, and how can it help improve your self-editing skills? Let's dive in!
What does it mean to maintain objectivity?
To maintain objectivity is to refuse to be influenced by personal feelings or opinions. When applied to self-editing, objectivity encourages us to see our manuscripts through the eyes of an editor or our future readers, rather than through the lens of our own attachment to our work.
Maintaining objectivity is important because we're often so caught up in our work that we fail to see our story's weaknesses, or even simple facts that we've forgotten to include.
And beyond merely attempting to view your work through an outsider's lens, maintaining objectivity can be difficult when faced with killing your darlings, the act of changing or removing elements for the sake of improving your work despite the love you bear them. Still, if we want to become better self-editors, finding a little objectivity is key.
On a more positive note, have doubts ever told you that every twist and turn in your novel must surely be evident? This is also a result of our subjective natures! In the thick of things, it's easy to forget that our readers will likely pick up our books knowing nothing about them. As the authors of our stories, we may know exactly what happens next, but our readers sure won't!
Now, with the definition and importance of objectivity established, let's discuss how we can obtain that objective eye.
Four tips for finding objectivity...
Finding and maintaining objectivity is a bit like physical exercise; it's a muscle that's most difficult to flex when you first begin but that you can build up over time if you keep a consistent practice. Take a break, and you'll likely find you must build up your strength all over again. Fortunately, that's easier to do when you've gained knowledge and experience from past practice.
But if you're currently a bit of an objectivity couch potato, how can you get started? Here are some tips and techniques every writer should keep in mind as they work toward self-editing success:
#1: Take a break between drafts.
The longer you work on a piece, the more engrossed in it you become. And in most cases, time away from your work equals increased objectivity. That's why it's vital for most writers to take a break between drafts of their manuscripts.
For full-length novels, I find that taking at least a two-week break is essential, though one to three months seems to be prime for gaining as objective an eye as possible. During this time, you can work on drafting or revising a different project or refilling your creative well in whatever way you prefer.
When the time comes to dive back in, however, don't do so without a plan. Work to lessen self-editing overwhelm by considering these ten simple steps. To better put yourself in the shoes of a future reader, you may also wish to work through this article on identifying your story's ideal reader.
#2: Create a questions list.
Admittedly, this task can be a tedious one. Before I explain further, let it be known that you can practice this technique on as large or small a scale as you'd like.
Now, stories are built on a series of questions. What is that character hiding? Why are they the chosen one? Will they ever fall in love? What's going to happen next? Questions such as these create tension, and it's curiosity that will urge readers to keep turning pages in order to see that tension resolved.
If you're struggling to maintain an objective eye as you work, one fantastic way to see your story through your readers' eyes is to read through your manuscript and write down every question posed along the way. This, in turn, allows you to ensure that you answer each of these questions in the text.
With diligence, this technique can help you avoid plot holes, include all necessary contextual and world-building information, and otherwise resolve threads of tension you might have missed if you did little to view your manuscript through readers' eyes.
#3: Write with a specific person in mind.
I mentioned ideal readers in tip one, but I don't think their importance can be overstated. An ideal reader is the fictional person most likely to enjoy your book. In many cases, this will be you, or a version of you, the author. But some writers enjoy crafting stories for readers who don't quite look like themselves.
No matter your ideal reader, writing, revising, and editing with them in mind is key. One of the bigger mistakes writers make is in appealing to too wide of an audience. We simply cannot please everyone, and so working to craft stories that will most please our ideal readers is the far superior goal.
In defining and getting to know those readers, it becomes easier to slip inside their shoes when revising and editing our stories, helping us gain a little invaluable objectivity.
#4: Be intentional as you edit.
As I've often said, writing a novel is a marathon of the mind. Completing that marathon is just as much about the determination to see your manuscript through as it is in the writing and storytelling abilities you've developed. Because of this, building and defending a healthy creative mindset is key.
Part of that healthy mindset is intentionality, which plays a role in every aspect of your writing life. By prioritizing your writing, you intentionally build a practice that will help you produce consistent work, while in challenging yourself, you're working to improve your skills with intention.
The benefits of intentionality extend to revising and editing, as well. An objective eye isn't something most naturally develop; it must be fought for. You must seek our your weaknesses, examine your prose, study the structure of your story, and never back away from the challenges self-editing presents.
This can be wearying, no doubt, which is why maintaining a healthy creative mindset by setting attainable goals, taking frequent breaks, and seeking out continued inspiration is essential. This is a side-note, perhaps, but working a little writerly self-care into your routine is also important.
When it's time to self-edit, take a moment to acknowledge that you are going to work with intention. Be mindful of whether your choices truly benefit your story or whether they're made from a place of doubt, fear, or ignorance. If the latter, take steps to fight back!
How can you work to see yourself improve?
As you begin incorporating these techniques into your writing life, you will see your objectivity grow and your manuscript improve. Hopefully, this will also make the editing process less intimidating for you, as you'll have a clearer understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your story and the changes you need to make.
Of course, self-editing isn't always simple, and you may encounter particular struggles along the way. In these cases, it's often helpful to have a truly objective eye on hand, whether in the form of an editor, a critique partner, or a few beta readers.
Don't be afraid to establish these relationships in your writing life. You don't have to make every change suggested by those who've lent their objective lens, but such feedback can make all the difference when it comes to turning your enjoyable story into a great one.
And of course, never stop striving to improve your own objective lens using the techniques we discussed today. Remember that objectivity is a muscle. Keep pushing, keep training, and you will see your self-editing skills improve tenfold.