As a reader, I always seemed to be able to pick out the grammar errors. Misspellings, repeated wording, missing commas (or too many), extra spaces between words, etc. You would be surprised how many professionally, traditionally published books have errors in them. But because of this ability, I thought I could simply edit my own stories. Ouch! Let’s look at this truthfully. You need a second set of eyes. Whether you are just starting out, or a seasoned author, that second set of eyes can be the difference between a great story and one riddled with errors. Seek out a person who can pick those things out easily and is willing to be totally honest with you. Those are the types of beta readers you want to find. They can’t be afraid to hurt your feelings. What you need is honesty so what you publish is well received. You are going to want to find an editor, too, especially in the beginning of your career as you learn the process of writing well. But, your editor doesn’t want some messy, garbled, error riddled story sent to them. They want the very best you can manage.
We all have our strong points and our weak points. Those weak points are what we need to focus on as we continue to write. Not to leave what we do well behind as you want to strive to become better and better at writing. The whole experience should be about learning and improving. Learning is a lifelong activity and helps makes us better at our chosen craft – writing.
I sit down and start writing my story when I have something in my head. Sometimes I have a title. Sometimes it is a phrase or a short conversation I heard. Sometimes I have read something – a title of a book, a phrase from a sign, the name of a location or establishment. And there it is. A story is forming in my head. I would love to say I don’t stop and edit when I need to read what I have so far. But that would be lying. I definitely edit every time I read it whether I’m done writing it or not.
Here is my system:
- I begin the story and write as far as I can before I need a break for whatever reason. It may be I need to make dinner, respond to someone in the household, a bathroom break. Many things might interrupt us when we are writing. And after, you may need to read “what you have so far”. That is me. I read from the start and edit as I go right then and there. Some authors think this is disastrous, but it works for me.
- Once my story is done, it gets a quick read through and edit. I prefer to let it sit for a minimum of one week. Sometimes I do not have that luxury when a deadline is involved and that is not the end of the world. I honestly try to get a great head start on my stories so I finish long before the deadline and have time to do my preferred way of self-editing. It just does not always happen that way. This is what I consider to be my first edit.
- Next, I relax and read through it. Okay, that first read after you have stepped away from it is NOT going to be relaxing because now you see all the errors, the bad sentence structure, the use of the same word two or more times in a few sentences, the tense jumping – my personal demon, and so on. At this point, it is time to pull up a thesaurus available online. Look for words to replace duplicated ones. I love Dictionary.com. I have used it for years and I’m comfortable with it. Use it or find your own help with this by checking out a few programs on the internet or a print version. This is my second edit.
- Next is what I consider to be the third run through. I wait about twenty-four hours or more and do another read through. Sometimes I find errors or a better way to roll through the story. Sometimes I find I have done to much ‘telling” and not enough “showing’. And sometimes I find it is a pretty well written story.
- However, I have not listened to it out loud. YES – You must read your story out loud to ensure you pick up all the little issues in it. I actually like to use the voice option on Microsoft Word. It is a bit mechanical, but I find that actually helps me to pick out what does not flow as well as I would like. A monotone voice really points out the bad writing. This is my fourth edit to a story.
- Finally, I have read and reread my story. I’ve heard a monotone male voice read it to me. I have picked at it and fussed over it and feel like I need to let this go. But no, not yet. I need one more edit, the fifth, to feel completely safe. I wait a few days, possibly a week, and I read it one more time. Usually, I find at least one thing, one word, I feel needs to be changed. Sometimes I find much more or I find nothing new. But if that one word isn’t just perfect, I might be throwing my entire story out the window.
Now I’m done. I have edited it to death. Most of the time, I have an editor go over my work. I always did in the beginning. That did hold me back some as we adjusted to living on one income and paying medical bills for me. So I did not publish as much as I would have liked. But it was worth it. It was so very worth it.
It is easy to think we know best. But I assure you, it is always the right direction when you listen to the people who have been writing for a long time. Find some writing groups on Facebook. Listen, learn, find good beta readers and editors. Learn to take advise from seasoned authors. There are many who are more than happy to help new writers get their writing careers going. Had it not been for my own mentor, Steve Carr, I would never have had the courage to publish my first story. Subsequent mentors and supporters taught me the things I needed to know. I studied language, grammar, read book after book on how to write well, how to submit short stories, how to write for certain genres. I intend to keep learning for as long as I live. And in the end, I just hope that you read something of mine and say, “That was a really good story!”