10 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE EDITING YOUR BOOK
Today we're talking about one of the most horrifying parts of the writing process, and that's editing. The self edit is the stage right before the professional edit. This is when you finished writing the rough draft of your novel and it's time for you to polish that bad boy up. A lot of writers hate this stage. They're so intimidated, they drag their feet and sometimes put it off indefinitely.
I, on the other hand, enjoy the self edit. It's actually one of my favorite parts of the writing process, and that's because I completely changed my mindset around it. Because of this, I'm going to tell you the top 10 things you need to know before you edit your novel. That way, the process will be less traumatic for you and maybe kind of enjoyable.
Without further ado, let's break down the 10 things you absolutely need to know before you start editing your book.
This video is sponsored by ProWritingAid. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: Yes, You HAVE To
“But Jenna, isn't that the editor's job? To edit my manuscript.”
Yes, exactly. They're supposed to edit your manuscript. But a rough draft isn’t a manuscript, it's a pile of shit. It's not humanly possible to create a perfect book after one attempt. And when you finally read over your rough draft, that is going to be blatantly clear. It's a mess.
You can't send a rough draft to an editor. That's essentially asking them to rewrite the entire book for you, and that's not their job–that’s yours. You're gonna have to edit the manuscript several times yourself, to the point where you have gotten it as polished as you possibly can on your own. That's when the pros come into play, and not any time before that.
Number 2: No, You’re NOT Almost Done
A lot of writers finish their first draft and assume the hardest part is over. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're wrong, bitch. The editing phase can often take as long or longer than the first draft. There are always exceptions, but those often go hand in hand with experience.
It's great to be excited about your writing journey, but now is not the time to start planning your release. People who treat this as the end of the road tend to find the editing process much more frustrating than it needs to be. They become so discouraged by how slow the process moves, which can lead to a rush job. It can lead to anxiety, imposter syndrome, or quitting altogether. Thus, it pays to be realistic. This next phase is very slow, and sometimes tedious. And that is completely normal.
Number 3: It’s Called a "Rough Draft" for a Reason…
... because that shit is rough. A lot of people start the self edit, read through the rough draft for the first time, and have a nervous breakdown.
“But Jenna, it's so bad!”
Of course, it's bad! It's not finished. All unfinished things are bad! Do you remember how awkward and pimply you were during puberty? You weren't finished adulting yet.
The same thing is happening to your manuscript. It's going through all kinds of wonderful–and sometimes embarrassing–changes. Pop those manuscript pimples! It'll be gross, but satisfying.
The point is, if manuscripts were perfect the first time around, a lot more people would be best sellers. Stop beating yourself up for having a rough rough draft. It's literally in the name.
Number 4: Inch by Inch, Life Is a Cinch
Starting the self edit can be overwhelming, because oh my God, you have to edit an entire book! Except, what if you didn't have to edit an entire book? Looking at the big picture is going to feel insurmountable. So instead, take it piece by piece. You are not editing a book–you’re editing a chapter. You are not completing a manuscript–you’re completing the developmental changes.
Divide the self edit into smaller, digestible chunks that you can tackle one at a time. If you need a guide for how to divide up your self edit, check out my video on the topic. But whatever you do, make sure you tackle your self edit in smaller parts. Because inch by inch, life is a cinch and yard by yard, life is hard.
Number 5: Mistakes Are a Good Thing
The main reason people hate self editing isn't because it's time consuming, it's because it's embarrassing. You have to reread your old writing, and suddenly all these typos, mistakes, and inconsistencies are blatantly obvious. How did you not see them sooner?
What if I told you mistakes are a good thing? Like, a really good thing. They serve as evidence that you are a better writer now than you were when you started the manuscript. That's what you want! You want to improve and grow in your craft with time and experience, so you shouldn't be embarrassed each time you find a mistake. If anything, you should feel relieved.
“Thank God I've improved to the point where I'm capable of correcting my issues!”
There are plenty of writers who have plateaued, but you are moving forward and that is a great thing.
Number 6: Now Is the Time for Education
Drafting isn't the time to worry about the intricacies of syntax and grammar, but all that changes once you start the edit. And while it is important to handle your self edit in batches, eventually you're gonna have to tackle these issues. You may not be an expert on commas. Maybe you struggle with the difference between “your” and “you’re.” This is the time to figure it out! Yes, it'll slow down the process, but it'll also make it so much easier to write and edit your next book.
This is where platforms like ProWritingAid really come in handy. You can upload your manuscript and have these sort of issues pointed out to you. On top of that, it'll tell you why the issue is an issue in the first place, and how to avoid it in the future. Take advantage of all the knowledge you can gain while editing and get into the habit of producing cleaner writing.
Number 7: You’re Not Alone
Congratulations! The self edit is the ideal time to ask for help. Lots and lots of help! This first and foremost means critique partners. They should be reading one of your earliest drafts and pointing out your recurring crutches and mistakes. You also get to enlist beta readers, typically after you've edited your draft a few times and you feel comfortable with its quality.
But there are plenty of other ways to feel less alone and overwhelmed during the self edit. Join a writing group so you can pick each other's brains and commiserate during the experience. I have an exclusive writing group via my Patreon called Cyborg Central, and there are tons of writers there talking about editing all the time. And of course, utilizing platforms like ProWritingAid will help you improve and grow the quality of your work when you're feeling totally stumped and struggling to find answers. This process will be a hell of a lot easier if you take advantage of all the help you can get!
Number 8: Comparison Is the Thief of Joy
“But Jenna, Stephen King's writing is SO much better than mine!”
Stephen King is also 5 billion years old. He's had eons to perfect his craft. Don't compare where you don't compete. It's not only unrealistic to compare yourself to famous people with years of experience, it's also destructive and unfair. Why are you expecting to grow in skill and talent at a superhuman rate? You ain't all that!
This isn't going to make you a better writer, it's just going to stunt your editing process until you're riddled with imposter syndrome. Stop being an idiot. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is the writer you were yesterday.
Number 9: Budget
This is the self edit, not the professional edit, and it's going to take a long time. But one day you're gonna reach the professional edit, and if you're going with a self-publishing route, it's going to cost you. You know what would really suck? If you needed to hire an editor and realized you were broke.
If you're at the self edit and haven't begun setting aside funds for an editor, now's the time. Get your shit together! The earlier, the better. If you know nothing about budgeting, fortunately for you, I have a video all about budgeting in order to save up money for future book expenses. I have a degree in business finance, so I know what I'm talking about.
Number 10: Perfection Is Subjective…
… and that’s why it’s unattainable. This is not to deter you from putting your all into your self edit. You should absolutely try to make your manuscript as polished as possible, but “perfection” shouldn't be the goal. Because if it is, you will never finish.
You are going to share your work with some people who love it and some people who hate it, because that's how subjective opinion works. If most of the people who come across your work take issue with it, then yes, your manuscript likely still needs some editing. But if a majority of the response is positive, and you've made it as polished as you possibly can, then it's time to put the red pen down. You're gonna have to be done at some point. At least until you hand the manuscript off to your professional editor, and the process starts all over again.
So that's all I've got for you today!
Editing your book can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. With these tips, you're ready to polish your manuscript ‘til it shines, then ship it off to the next step on your publication journey: the professional edit.
What’s your favorite strategy for working through the self edit? I can’t wait to hear about it in the comments below!
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