Things can be hard when you’re a one-man wrecking crew. If you’re an indie novelist like me, you have to do literally everything yourself. And I mean EVERYTHING. You’re doing your own marketing, publishing and sometimes even editing. While I don’t think it’s wise to edit your own work, in the initial stages it’s something that you absolutely have to do. So, nestle down into your favorite coffee shop, buy yourself an espresso, and open your laptop. It’s editing time.
How do I edit my own novel?
To edit your own work is to have a process. Walk yourself through all of the stages of editing, developmental editing, line editing, and copyediting, and by the end of it you’ll have a polished novel. In this post I’m going to walk you through what I do. This isn’t necessarily the correct way or the best way, but this is the way I’ve found it best to look at my own work. Now, keep in mind that if you’re editing something yourself, this is the BARE MINIMUM. Even after going through all of the editing stages yourself, I am still a firm believer in hiring editors to do work for you. They’ll have fresh eyes on the piece and it will make your work all the better. If you don’t have the luxury nor the funds to hire an editor, recognize that this process will take longer. Give yourself two or three weeks between each round of edits in order to give your eyes a rest and take a nice break. Now, without further ado, let’s get to it.
Step One: Grammarly and A LONG Break
You’re manuscript is done. CONGRATULATIONS! This is a huge feat and you should absolutely be proud of yourself. Go and buy yourself a drink. You deserve it. Now, you’re going to give yourself a well deserved break. You want to do this right away to give your eyes time to rest from the novel. If you’re like me and you write 2500+ words a week, your brain is currently overloaded with your own writing. Pop your manuscript into Grammarly, which is a free service, and tighten up your work. All you’re looking for here is simple grammar mistakes and typos, nothing more. Don’t get too deep into it yet because you still are too deep into the writing mindset. Once Grammarly has done it’s thing, you’re going to save your manuscript, make yourself a martini, and enjoy a nice movie by the fire. You’ve earned it.
Take a break from your novel for a month. This is REALLY important. Not only will the free time be nice, but you’ll be hyped to work on your manuscript again. Your brain needs time to shift from writer brain to editor brain, and I would recommend four weeks to do that. If you’re in a time crunch and you can’t spare four whole weeks, the minimum should be two. Make sure to budget this into your production schedule before you even start writing your novel.
Step Two: The Developmental Edit
This type of edit is best done with someone else’s eyes, but if you have to do it yourself it can be an important step. The first preparatory step to doing a developmental edit is reading. Yes, READING! Not your own work, but of an author you really admire. Whose style do you like? Who do you want to sound like when you write? Find that author and read as many of their works as you can. Mine’s Neil Gaiman. Analyze his style and his storytelling. What do you like about his characters? What is tantalizing about his plot? Do you have it? Good. It’s time to edit.
Now you’re going to go through your own work and look for things that gum up the story, namely plot holes, bad character development, and slow story. You’re going to have to be really hard on yourself here. Your story has a lot wrong with it right now. You just have to find it. Are your characters’ motives solid? Does your plot make sense? Even if you don’t have an editor you’re paying, run your story by your friend. Make sure they’re an HONEST friend who will tell you how it is. They can help you find weak points in your story that don’t make any sense or aren’t as interesting. Polish up your work, fix the things that aren’t compelling or just aren’t working, and then take another two or three week break.
Step Three: The Line Edit
Remember all of those books you read by your favorite author over your break? Good. You’re going to need them. I want you to break down your writer’s style. What kind of word choice do they use? Are they fans of simile and metaphor? What is it about how they write that you want to emulate? Once you’ve gotten that in your mind, you’re going to go through your work and pick it apart line by line (“line edit”… see what I did there?) to make it sound how you want. Just think to yourself, “What would (insert my favorite writer here) do?” This is the simplest edit, but also the longest. This is where the nitpicking angel that sits on your shoulder when you right can take the spotlight.
Once you’re done with this edit, send it through Grammarly again. This will make it easier for you to do the third and final stage of editing. After Grammarly is… you guessed it! Another break! Take another two week break to reset yet again because the third and hardest stage of editing is right around the corner.
Step Four: Copyediting
Before you get to this point, you need to ask yourself if your book is totally finished. If it’s not, why? This may put you right back at the developmental editing stage if you add significant amounts to your book at this point. If it is totally finished, hooray! You’re on the home stretch. For a final copyedit, I like to put my book through ProWritingAid. It’s a super thorough browser-based editing software that I really love. You can either go through your manuscript real time and fix the edits it gives or go through every category available to you (some are only available in the paid version) and pull your manuscript apart. You’re looking for things like curly vs straight quotes, typoes, and missed punctuation here, not anything to do with style. This will make sure your book is going to look so pretty on shelves that it will make people cry.
Editing is Hard
And don’t you forget it! You’re going to want to rip your hair out some days. It can really make you feel like your book isn’t any good. That’s the point! Your book isn’t good… yet. Editing is all about growth. No author alive (even legends like King or Gaiman) don’t poop out a perfectly good book the first time around. Not only do they have decades of experience, but also a solid process and a team of editors that know their work. Their editors take pride in being the ones who get their books on shelves and authors would be nowhere without them.
Make editing easier on yourself by budgeting time in your schedule for it. When it comes time to edit, grab yourself a nice hot beverage, a cozy blanket, and get to work. It should be relaxing and you should be able to take as long as you like with your work. I make crazy deadlines for yourself, but you don’t have to. Nothing is worse than putting out a half-baked book, so go easy on yourself. I personally like to pay other editors to take my book for me for two weeks so that I can have some time to myself after the stressful time of writing a book. Don’t forget that you should enjoy writing!
Do you have any editing tips that you’ve picked up over the years, or a favorite editor of choice? I would love to hear about them. Drop them into the comments below! If you’re looking for editing services, I offer them! Email me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask me about my rates. I’d love to see what projects you’ve got cooking. If you ever need any help or need clarification, you’re more than welcome to email me as well. I’m here to help! Good luck editing, and happy writing!