Self-editing for fiction writers

I have recently decided to convert Planet Passing into ePub and Mobipocket formats ahead of Silent Rising and Silent Landing. Why? Because I knew it needed an edit, and once I started I couldn’t resist going through the entire novel to make sure it was fresh. Enlightenment seems to come in little flashes, and when you write it’s important to reflect on those lessons.

PP cover 2TL

When I first began writing seriously in 1995, I thought I’d dread editing my stories. At first the chore became my wife’s. Although this was a good experience, and positive introspection came from it, I have to admit it was stressful. For instance, my idea of a good sex scene and my wife’s isn’t exactly the same. Yet what she enjoys from other authors is often more explicit than what I write.

Planet Passing has some explicit sex because my protagonist marries a young woman that has a girlfriend, and together they conspire to advance their desires into his bedroom. The plot, which includes the possible destruction of Earth made it a little more conceivable that moral convictions would be put to the test, plus it’s fun to add a little romance into science fiction.

Because of my desire to be true to my convictions, I soon realized that I would have to teach myself to self-edit. One of the big problems I have noticed when editing is reading what I write. On numerous occasions I have read something correctly that I have actually written incorrectly. This can occur reading aloud as well as to myself. How is that even possible? Spell and grammar checks are supposed to find such obvious errors. Not! So something new to add. Accidentally I decided to use text to speech to listen to one of my novels. I love well read audio books, and although text to speech isn’t exactly the same, the big plus is that the computer reads exactly what is written. This has become one of my main editing tools, and I’ll write more about it in the future.

I confess I use Microsoft Word to produce my manuscript, and rely heavily on the spelling and grammar check. It’s amazing how bad Microsoft Word can screw up grammar, and it certainly doesn’t realize that you’ve used pair instead of pare or about a million other possible misuses. This is not to say that my grammar is perfect, nor should it be. Writing isn’t just about grammar or spelling. At times, especially in dialog it is important to break the rules, because in language rules are broken all the time. What is important is to not confuse your reader.

I also use Apple’s Pages. In Word I wrote one chapter at a time. In Pages I compiled them, and Pages open up and you can read the last page of a 500 page novel in seconds. It takes Word several minutes to get there. I admit both platforms have their pluses and minuses, and I keep hoping for the day that Apple actually gets serious about creating superior software with all the bells and whistles users want. It seems they’d rather give away their software as a bonus, and say, looks it’s free, so what are you complaining about?

So, back to the editing issue. The big question for every writer is should I pay for professional editing? Should you? I suppose it first depends upon your budget, but more important is what you expect to gain from a professional edit. Most editors will try to influence your voice or style if you actually have one. Is that what you want? If the only input you want is for errors, perhaps a critique from a critique group would be better. Numerous eyes going over what you have written are far more likely to pick out the obvious.

Yes, I have also been in critique groups. Once again the experience was worthwhile, but let me say that a bunch of beginning writers reading each other’s work is a recipe for disaster. Also, writers are very biased, and most are very attached to the style and genre they have elected to write. This is not to say you won’t get good feedback from a critique group, but be prepared to have your feathers ruffled.

My best suggestion for any fiction writer is to let it rest. Revisit what you have written months or even years after you have written it. Having just recently edited Planet Passing for about the umpteenth time, I have to admit I had a blast. If you don’t enjoy editing what you have written, perhaps you should question if writing is your passion, or just a means to an end like becoming rich and famous. Good luck!

I’ll admit that writers that are serious about making money are generally better writers than those that aren’t. If you are timid about making writing a career, no doubt that timidity will show up in your writing. The best place to see examples of this is to join a critique group. Every writer there will have aspirations, but few will have the fortitude to actually go to press. Few will deal with obscurity and still persist.

So, if you think you are going to write and make a living you better think twice, and above all, if you don’t enjoy doing something, don’t do it. It amazes me how many people work a lifetime at a job they dislike. It amazes me how many people don’t know what they like or have any great passion for anything. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about most of the writers I’ve met. They have a passion for life.

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