The Process of Self-Editing

Editing and revising can be the most tedious or the most exciting part of the writing process. On the one hand, you’ve completed your rough draft (a stage many people never make it to) and are well on the way to finishing up. On the other hand, going over the same material again and again can be time-consuming (if done properly) and mind-numbing. But if you’re not going to hire a professional for whatever reason, then there’s really only one option left, and that’s to do it yourself.

There are a number of ways to go about this. In fact, every author may have a personalized method, and that’s just fine. As a general rule, though, my process goes something like this:

For Books…

Final Draft I

Read through the entire work from beginning to end, making necessary corrections as you go along, and perhaps taking notes on some things you’d like to add to enhance the story or boost your word count (if you’re concerned with that kind of thing). By the end of this stage, you should have something that you could potentially submit to a publisher or agent in a pinch, but that could still maybe use some tuning up.

Add-Ins

This is the point at which you add in all those ideas you came up with while reading the story through the first time. At first I did this kind of willy-nilly, but now I have a more systematic approach that seems to work well. I go through my typed manuscript and place asterisks in the spots where I want to add something, followed by a short description of what the scene will look like. Once I’ve placed all my asterisks, I can then go about actually creating the new sequences in whatever order I want. I then eliminate the descriptions but keep the asterisks for now to remind myself to pay extra close attention to these sequences on my next read-through.

Final Draft II

After a minimum of a month after your add-in period, (the longer you wait, the better) you can do yet another read-through, making more corrections and coming up with yet more ideas for new sequences as you go. Pay particular attention to the scenes with the asterisks you left behind, as they missed out on the first edit, and so potentially house more errors than the rest of the manuscript. At the end of this, you should definitely have a publishable book.

Add-Ins

Repeat the process just like the first time of adding scenes as necessary, leaving the asterisks in place for your final final draft.

Final Draft III

Your final final draft (at least ideally)! Repeat the same editing process you used before, and you should have a manuscript that’s as complete as can be. Obviously, you may need to repeat this process more or less, depending on how the story really looks (and on how many add-in ideas you still have when all is said and done). Three times is just what I’d consider a safe minimum to aim for.

For Shorter Works…

For novellas, I recommend repeating the above process about twice, whereas with short stories you should probably only need to go through it once (maybe twice if you’re really trying to make it look sharp).

And there you have it: my editing/revising process. It’s nothing fancy, but it works. You may ask what role the spelling and grammar checker inherent to most word processors plays in this process, to which I would reply: a very small one. While these can be handy little tools for catching the occasional error in spelling, spacing or syntax, they require some close supervision to work properly. There are certain words (especially if you type a lot of dialectal dialogues) it will see as wrong that you want to keep, and other times it will miss a word that’s technically spelled correctly, but doesn’t fit the context at all. And of course, they can’t tell you what your story needs to make it better either. For this reason (as well as the fact that monitoring them can be very tedious and time-consuming in of itself), I suggest making this the last step in your editing process.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is an author, linguist, historian, and nature-lover based out of Kansas City, Missouri. He has previously published several short pieces in various local and online venues. Among these are the short stories "The Buck" and "The Otter Kit Streamer", which won 1st and 2nd place respectively in the 2015 and 2016 editions of the academic journal, 'Shorelines'. His first novel, 'Sauragia', was published in October of 2020.

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