By Kelli Collins
Having been on both the giving and receiving end of edits, I know they’re usually a source of angst. But where most authors consider edits little red badges of failure, I prefer to see them as bringing me closer to books that shine like Kojak’s big, bald head. Edits should encourage, not discourage; they should be the deadliest weapon in your arsenal, not harbingers of doom.
The closer you are to your work, the more emotionally involved, the harder edits will be. Nothing you haven’t heard before. So how does one develop the resolve necessary for successful editing? That fabled thick skin that allows you to step back and view your work objectively? It starts with you—and it’s called self-editing.
I hereby bequeath to you my precious red pen, and empower you to use it with impunity. Heady feeling, ain’t it? There’s no end to excellent self-editing tips online, so no excuse not to practice it. The better you become, the less red you’ll see from your editor. Your chances for acceptance will increase. Your readers will thank you. Your characters will love you (they don’t want to look bad either).
To get you started, some of my favorite tips for authors (by no means a comprehensive list). Said in many ways, on many sites, by many editors:
1. Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck. No excuses. It’s the number one reason for most of the rejections I hand out.
2. Take a break. Walk away. Just walk away! By the time you’ve typed “The End”, you’re about ready to bleed Times New Roman. Distance yourself a bit, work on something else, gain some objectivity then go back with a fresh eye.
3. Avoid info dumps. The first couple pages of your book are not the place for extensive descriptions and back stories for your characters. Reveal your characters and their stories gradually, in sensible places throughout their narratives.
4. Avoid repetition and over-description. If your hero’s eyes are green, search that word. If your heroine’s hair is red, search that word (and redhead, red-haired, etc.). You’ll be surprised how often you repeat yourself. Also avoid long strings of adjectives. “The six-foot-two, muscle-bound, hunkalicious, oh-my-god hot doctor walked into the room.”
5. Avoid crutch words that add nothing: when, that, just, really, very, suddenly, then, etc.
6. Read your book out loud. It’s a great way to spot repetition, run-on sentences, awkward structure and long dialogue tags. The words might look right on the page…but how do they sound?
7. Read backward. No joke. The last word in a sentence is often the most powerful. Do you really need the last word or three at the end of that sentence? “Dazzled by the creamy confection’s delicacy, she couldn’t get enough
8. If your publisher has a house style guide, learn it, live it, love it. Not published? Start with The Chicago Manual of Style, which breaks down all grammar, style and punctuation for you. Then build your own personal style guide, a checklist tailored to your personal writing habits, words you often misspell, rules you have trouble remembering, etc. (Mine is two full pages. It takes me an average of 6 minutes to search my authors’ books for each item on the list. I’m proud to report most have now pounded themselves into my head—but I still check them anyway.)
9. Don’t rely on crit partners to do the work for you. Most crit partners are friends, family members, fellow authors, etc., who likely have as much or less experience than you. And love them though we do, they often won’t tell us what we need to hear. They’ll tell us what we want to hear. Sorry; it’s the truth. Who wants to hurt anyone’s feelings (plus, most of us suck at constructive criticism)? If I ask my best friend what she thinks of the haircut I just gave myself, she’s never going to tell me, “It sucks. You look like a Dark Helmet from Spaceballs.” Even if my own mirror says my hair can now legally be used as a hardhat on construction sites.
10. Finally—write first, edit later. Resist the urge to go back and read each chapter upon completion. It’s the easiest way to get sucked into the tenth level of minutia, where you’ll remain for untold weeks or months in self-doubt hell. You’ll revise and revise and revise and…