How to approach self-editing
As a new writer, I loved developing the first draft. My creative juices flowed, and new ideas gave me goosebumps. The editing process seemed daunting and, frankly, a bit boring with technical decisions about word choice, removing lazy or repetitive words, and fixing punctuation mistakes. While those fixes are essential, the fun part of editing is more profound and can be as creative as writing the first draft.
First of all, follow the standard advice about giving your draft time to cool off. I typically wait a few weeks or a month. DO NOT give up on writing during that time. Write the short story that’s been hiding in your head or start penciling out an outline for your next novel. You’re giving your draft a rest—not you!
Spend some time reading about self-editing. The web has a bunch of information, and there are many excellent books on editing. But some of my favorites are Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print (Browne & King), The Elements of Style (Strunk & White), and On Writing (Stephen King). Use these books to discover what you need to improve and what you already do well. Otherwise, you may decide to rip up your resting draft and give up writing. That would be bad. A final copy of your polished book deserves a place in bookstores and eager readers’ hands.
When you feel prepared and your draft has sufficiently marinated, dig in. You’ll spend time searching for pesky words (e.g., just, that, really, as, and most adverbs—to name a few). But also focus on: Deepening your characters, tightening your pace, and ensuring your plot holds together. This is where the fun begins. Instead of having an elderly aunt smile at her beloved nephew, have his throat tighten when she covers her smile with a hand.
If your conversion from first to second draft is like mine, your word count will increase by a third. Don’t worry because on your next set of edits, you’ll delete parts that over explain, redundant text, and boring bits.
I still love the initial creative drafting best, but I’ve learned to enjoy editing, too. The trick is to make it fun and use it to give depth to your story and characters.