Editing Like a Boss – 5 Self-Editing Techniques For Writers

Feb 6, 2021 | Advice

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with editing. There are times when I it feels great to get stuck into a story and give it a good old shove in the right direction. Other times I stare at the page in confusion, lacking either the ideas or the motivation to take whatever I’ve created and turn it into something coherent.

Whether you find editing a joy or a chore, it’s always useful to have some tricks up your sleeve to make sure you’re as efficient as possible. Here are my tips on doing just that:

Figuring out a clear path through the woods is so important when you’ve got a big muddle of words and ideas (more of a jungle?) to navigate. Image credit: Unsplash

1. Leave it Alone.

I mean this in two ways. Firstly, resist the urge to tweak too much when you’re in the process of writing. If, like me, you tend to write your stories in chunks, it’s very tempting to do a full edit on what you wrote the day before. The problem is, not only will this get you bored with the story far more quickly (who knows how many times you’ll read it?!), it also has the potential to cause problems later. You might find you need to cut that beautiful sentence you rewrote five times because it isn’t needed. If you’re going to have to kill your darlings, at least make sure they are rough, first draft darlings!

Secondly, leave a space between finishing the draft and sitting down to edit it. Short of replacing your brain with a new one, it’s the only real way to approach your story as a reader rather than a writer. If it all possible, try to pretend you’ve never seen it before and that you are seeing it for the first time. Printing it out also really helps with this.

It’s surprising how helpful it is to make notes in different colours. Looks prettier, too.

Image credit: Unsplash

2. Get Organised

You’re going to have notes all over the place, there’s no getting around it. But you can make them a bit easier to decipher. I use different coloured pens to make sense of my notes when I come back to them. Red = structure, pink = character, blue = style, green = accuracy. That way I can focus on each of them in turn rather than trying to do fifteen things at once.

3. Start Big, Get Small

There’s no point starting with typos. If you start off with the little errors, you’ll get so bogged down in it you’ll miss out on the big stuff stuff. My biggest issue at first is usually plot, or lack of it. For this reason, I don’t even think about words and phrases until I’m sure that the overall story arc, character arc and paragraphs make sense.

Also, this is a fun place to start as it usually means lots of lopping big bits off and changing the order. It helps with the earlier-mentioned problems of getting bored of re-reading the story and refining extraneous bits that will end up on the cutting-room floor.

The words you come back to again (and again…) will be just as unique as the coffee you need to get you writing in the first place.

Image credit: Pexels

4. Style Breakdown

This is always the most daunting category, so I try to break it down into parts. I’ve identified the ones that work best for me as cl = clunky, comp = compressed, wc = word choice, nqr = not quite right, and ? = I’m totally confused. Again, breaking it down before I get to rewriting means that I can do helpful activities like identifying the overall style of my vocabulary, or that of my character. It also allows me to ‘skip over’ bits that I know aren’t really working, but I don’t want to sit down and think of a solution quite yet. We’re in editing mode, not rewriting mode.

4. Know Thyself

Once you’ve read a few of your stories, you can start to get a pretty decent idea of what’s going to come up. I’ve put together an ‘overused phrases’ list which has such gems like ‘intent on…’ and ‘thick.’ Why are so many things thick in my stories? I don’t know, but they are.

Have a bit of a laugh with it, we all get hung up on the same words and phrases sometimes. Being aware of your ‘go to’ list will make you more aware of them and less likely to keep repeating them.

Yes, you’ll get sick of hearing your story out loud. Yes, you need to do it. Silly voices make the whole experience more entertaining.

Image credit: Pexels

5. Get Used to the Sound of your Voice

A lot of people recommend reading stories out loud before any editing. I have to say, I don’t think it’s the way to go. My first drafts are such a big jumbled mess sometimes, there’s far too much to be done before I can start thinking about the finer points of rhythm and flow. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent editing technique, but I think it’s best to save it until at least your second draft, so you’ve got something a bit more polished to work with.

There’s something beguiling about writing all over your work, brimming with ideas on how it can be great. Until you get to the next rewrite, of course…

There you have it! There’s my (reasonably) foolproof list to make your stories great. If you’re a short story writer and you’d like me to help you out with your editing, I offer a feedback and coaching service. You can choose to get detailed line edits and a feedback report, and also book a one-to-one coaching session. You can sign up to it, and my other workshops, here.

Featured image from Pexels

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