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Feb
18
2019

Editing Your Own Work -- by Brandon Cornwell

Hello there! Hopefully, you've read my other two blog posts, Beta Readers: Part One and Beta Readers: Part Two. If you haven't you can follow those two links and catch up. If you have, you may be wondering what to do next! You've developed relationships with your beta readers, you've gotten your feedback, and you have all of your notes. So now what?

Well, this is the part where you roll up your sleeves and get to work. I know, we've all heard it a million times; “You finished your manuscript? Now you get to edit it! Now you get to REALLY work!”

It is one of the truest thing you'll ever hear as a writer. As of this writing, I am only about half an hour or so outside of finishing the re-editing of my combined first trilogy. I've been working at it solid since December 3rd, 2018. All in all, I've edited over 337,000 words in just under two months, and it is the hardest thing I have ever done since I started writing. Compared to this, writing is a cakewalk.

So why do it? Why not just pay an editor to do it for you? I mean, that's their job, right?

Well, yes, it is. And people get paid for doing their jobs. In this case, the person doing the paying would be you. If your manuscript is long (Rising Thunder is 107,978 words, Thunderbolt is 107,323, and Storm's Break is 122,590), that can cost a pretty penny. I've had quotes of $1500-$2500 for thorough editing for each of my novels; the entire shebang would cost me nearly five grand, which is money I don't have to drop on such an endeavor, as nice as it would be to do so. So what's a fella (or filly) to do?

Well, you can cough up the dough and do it. One of the prevailing opinions (and it has its merits) is that a writer is unable to edit their own work, and it -must- be done by a professional, lest you risk releasing garbage into the world with your name on it.

If you're going the route of traditional publishing, well, then someone else is going to edit it for you anyways, so this blog post doesn't really apply to you. I jealously wish you luck, and I'm totally not making a voodoo doll to poke pins into out of jealousy for your fantastic achievment.

But if you're like me and you have other bills, other responsibilities, and a spouse looking over your shoulder wondering why we just dropped several months' income on editors, well, have I got a solution for you!

Editing is a skill. Just like any other skill, it can be learned, and it can be taught. I am going to come right out and say that when I started, I was a horrible editor; the state of all three of my novels is an attestation to that. However, as I worked on editing, I studied every single thing I could find on common mistakes writers make -as written by editors-. A fantastic one was written by an editor who worked for Random House.

Are these bad habits creeping into your writing?

There are plenty more, let me assure you. They are a valuable resource as to what editors are actually looking for as they read your work – not as in what they want to see, but what they are looking for to eliminate. If you can find those things and keep them in mind, then you've already improved your writing spectacularly. There will still be work to be done, of course, but that is an excellent first step.

I have worked very hard over the last three years on developing my editing skills, and it's only in the last six months or so that I would say that I've become adequate at the task. Not a master by any means; I am, of course, first and foremost a storyteller, followed closely by being a writer. However, any writer who wants to self publish (as I do) needs to know how to whip their manuscript into shape. So, without further ado, here is my method.

 

STEP ONE: Compile Your Notes

Start with the exact same copy that you gave your beta readers. Wait to make any revisions you plan to make until after you've gotten your feedback from them. Even if you have some major changes to make (Snowfall, for example, the next novel of mine set to be edited, will have one, maybe two chapters added), wait. Write your notes. Hell, write your chapter, but do it in a separate file. The reason you want to do this is so that whatever notes you have taken from your beta read feedback will actually -apply- to what you're working with.

Did one of your beta readers point out a bunch of grammar mistakes you made, or some punctuation you screwed up? Well, if you fix that on the way through as you're making your changes, that is going to slow you down. You'll be referencing your notes, looking through your text, trying to find a mistake that no longer exists. This will slow you down and cost you lots of time, as well as be super boring. Let's avoid being bored.

Once you have your beta notes compiled in a way that works for you, then you can move on. I personally prefer to break up my notes by chapter, the same way I break up my manuscript files. That way, I know that when I am done with that chapter's notes, I am done with those notes, and I won't have to dig through them again when moving on to the next section.

 

STEP TWO: Revise Based on Beta Notes

Once you have your notes compiled, go through and make any and all changes that your beta readers suggested and you agree with. Sometimes it's going to just be a reworded sentence. Sometimes it'll be the clipping of an entire paragraph or more. Whatever it is, if it doesn't modify the scope of the story too drastically (i.e. not necessarily developmental editing), then just make the changes, and do your best not to hit anything else. If there's a blatant misspelling or punctuation error that was obviously a typo, yeah, hit it, but try not to edit for flow, echoing, rhythm, etc. not yet. There is plenty of time for that later.

 

STEP THREE: Make Your Own Personal Revisions (if any)

This is where you would go through and add or remove major material. For me, there is a section at the end of Snowfall where I need to add something to make the last bit a bit more engaging. As it is, it falls a little flat and leaves the readers on a low note. However, I have just the thing to spruce it up! This is the point where I will add that part. My entire story has been revised according to my Beta Reader feedback, and now it's time for my own observations that I've made, based on what I've heard back from my team, as well as what I've considered by letting the manuscript ruminate for a while.

As always, pay close attention to your grammar, echoing, flow, etc. You'll want your added material to be at near-finished-form, so apply everything you've learned about proper storytelling to whatever you add.

 

STEP FOUR: Feed It To The Machine (optional)

I use Grammarly. I have paid for the year-long subscription, which gives me access to the deeper-dive features of the program. It's pretty fantastic, in my humble opinion; it has caught more things than I thought it would. Start at Chapter One and feed the program your writing. Read every word you wrote and consider every single suggestion. Dismiss the ones you don't like or don't agree with, and implement the ones that you do like.

For example, me, personally, I don't really mind passive voice too much. According to Grammarly, my work is riddled with it. When I read it over, however, it doesn't necessarily -read- like it's super passive. I will evaluate each suggestion, weight it out, and either click 'accept' or 'dismiss'. Again, go through your whole manuscript this way, and it is very important, READ. EVERY. WORD. If you see a mistake that Grammarly (or whatever program you're using) missed, then fix it!

 

STEP FIVE: The Thorough Proofread

This is the last step and the most tedious part, and I recommend taking a break before you get started. Go -all- the way back to Chapter One. Start at the first word.

Read it. Do it slowly. No, slower.

This is so that you focus on every single word, every quotation, every punctuation, every bit of formatting you've done, to make abundantly sure you've done it right. If you're still in your editing phase and you want to add more material, stop. Go back. Repeat steps three and four. Then start over. If you're not convinced that you've polished a chapter, start it over. Do it again. No major revisions (you're past that stage), just minor ones. Put the dialogue tag or action beat after the spoken sentence. Pick different words to eliminate echoing. Mix up those pesky pronouns that start a dozen paragraphs in a row. Apply that last grit of sandpaper to your project, then seal it. Finish your project.

Now move on to chapter two.

By this time, you will have gone over your work four times, systematically seeking out problems and setting your phasers to kill. The goal is that, by the time you finish this step, your manuscript is done.

 

 

And that's it. That's what I do. It'll take you time, it'll take patience, and there is definitely a learning curve. As you get more experienced with it, you'll get better. You may even look over your old manuscripts and think, “By the gods, what was I even DOING?”

What you were doing was developing a skill. It takes time to learn how to make a proper dovetail joint and your first ones will be sloppy. But after you've done a dozen of them and you're familiar with the tools and techniques, then they will improve. You'll learn what idiosyncrasies you have, what common mistakes you make, and you'll keep an eye out for them as you write, making your job easier next time. You'll learn how to use the tools you have to greater effect, and you'll be on the way to being a fully self-contained, self published author.

Good luck!

Posted by Brandon Cornwell 18 Feb at 00:01
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Responses to this blog

Beorckano 18 Feb at 01:39  
Step Six: Sit there afterwards, completely paranoid that you've missed something.
Grimraven 18 Feb at 07:09  
If I can suggest anything before editing your novel, it's to make sure you do some kind of outline for character profiles and the plot. If you're doing fantasy and creating your own world, it's helpful to make outlines of everything from character profiles to history of the world to how combat/magic systems work to governments to plots. Even if it's just rambling in paragraphs. As long as you have something to go on, some kind of mention of each thing in your story that needs elaboration, it helps.
__________________
"What are you going to do, bleed on me?" - King Arthur

Beorckano 18 Feb at 10:17  
I feel like that lands a bit more in the world building/writing phase of creating a story than in the editing part. I'm a sort of hybrid storyteller, balancing between being a Gardener and an Architect. As such, I have a wealth of worldbuilding behind me that I draw from as needed. I already have a significant cast in my saga, and working them out ahead of time is sort of integral to making sure they act and speak appropriately as you write them the first time, yaknow? I feel like if you're needing to make changes in overall dialogue and character decisions, you're not quite to the final editing phase yet.
__________________
Brandon Cornwell, author of the Dynasty of Storms series
The Warrior's Trilogy
Songs of the Northlands

Grimraven 18 Feb at 15:15  
I agree, which is why I suggest that if people are going to make outlines, to do it before editing. I've made the mistake, putting off certain things and just keeping certain world building and profiles in my head and not organizing them on documents, and it's made a world of difference just finally doing it. Otherwise, one might hit some ruts in their editing process.
__________________
"What are you going to do, bleed on me?" - King Arthur

Beorckano 18 Feb at 15:23  
I may do a blog on Worldbuilding once I finish the revision/editing of Snowfall. I've been watching Brandon Sanderson's lectures on Science Fiction and Fantasy writing, and they've been fantastic.
__________________
Brandon Cornwell, author of the Dynasty of Storms series
The Warrior's Trilogy
Songs of the Northlands

Stromberg 18 Feb at 15:44  
One thing to add on proofreading: An old proofreader's trick is to read the story backward. Start at the last sentence or line, then do the second-to-last, and so on. This stops you from being unconsciously swept up in the story (and thereby swept right past an unobtrusive error).
Tgreen 19 Feb at 02:14  
Stromberg
An old proofreader's trick is to read the story backward.
That's a seriously awesome trick.
I'll add one too - a good way to catch errors/sentence structure issues is to run the text through a text to speech service, like naturalreaders.com (free to use), and thus having a semi-robotic voice read the text to you. The downside is that this is so mind-numbingly boring you'll want to strangle yourself with the headset cable, so it's best used as the last-step edit.
Beorckano 19 Feb at 02:44  
I will 100% agree. I learned more about my writing after listening to the audiobooks than I could have known I didn't know.
__________________
Brandon Cornwell, author of the Dynasty of Storms series
The Warrior's Trilogy
Songs of the Northlands

Slaw30 21 Feb at 03:31  
Great blog! It took 2 years to write my book. It's taken 2.5 years to edit it.
In part, that was because I had a baby, but most of it was realising that "learning to write" only actually happened in the editing phase.

As this was my first book, I had no concept of how to arrange my words in an interesting way. That's taken quite a while to learn (and I'm still learning). I would add, that if I had simply given it straight to an editor, it would still be far away from the book it is today. I think your points on editing stand for everyone, even those who find an agent/publisher. You still need to hand it over to them in the best state possible.
Giglio 24 Feb at 18:38  
Get a professional editor. If not, the same eyes on a manuscript will not see what others see. Your betas better be really good. Good developmental editors are worth the price. Go cheap, get cheap.
Beorckano 24 Feb at 19:27  
Giglio
Get a professional editor. If not, the same eyes on a manuscript will not see what others see. Your betas better be really good. Good developmental editors are worth the price. Go cheap, get cheap.
I appreciate your input, Giglio, but, as was addressed in the blog post itself, that is not an options for some of us.
__________________
Brandon Cornwell, author of the Dynasty of Storms series
The Warrior's Trilogy
Songs of the Northlands

Trevose 24 Feb at 21:34  
I think Giglio's comment was more about development editing. Your blog is (mostly) about copy editing and line editing to my eyes. You mash them together, which is fine. (See more about the distinction here: nybookeditors.com/2015/01/copyediting-vs-line-editing/).

I agree with the earlier comments about also listening to your work. A good text to speech tool can be a surprisingly effective way to find awkward sentences and other gaffs.

I would also strongly suggest using either ProWritnigAid or AutoCrit to check your work for more stylistic issues. Grammarly may or may not do a good job of catching grammatical issues (the free version does a good job of catching basic issues, but I've read that the paid version can flag false positives). Grammarly is not built, however, to catch issues with repetition, adverb overuse, sentence length, pronoun overuse, etc. PWA and AC are both very good at flagging such things, though both have their annoying eccentric oddities, and using either is a time-consuming, added step in one's editing process. Of course, such steps are of value if they help you deliver a better end product. Neither is free, but if you play around with their demo license you'll get on their mailing list and about once a year they offer lifetime access for a few hundred dollars, which is a steal in my book. If that is still too much, the free "Hemingway Editor" ( www.hemingwayapp.com/) is a very watered down version of PWA and AC, so there are just a few things it helps with. That said, free is nice, and it does a very good job of spotting overly complex sentences and excessive adverb use.
Beorckano 24 Feb at 22:00  
I will say that the paid version of Grammarly (which I use) does catch repetition, sentence length, wordiness, etc. I use it just before my final line-by-line polish.

I will definitely check out the other two and see if they add value to my editing process.
__________________
Brandon Cornwell, author of the Dynasty of Storms series
The Warrior's Trilogy
Songs of the Northlands

Ginkgo 1 Mar at 04:51  
I use both Grammarly and Pro-Writing Aid. They tend to catch different things. Grammarly is better on the grammar by far, but pro-writing aid can do some in-depth analysis that Grammarly can't such as sentence length, sticky sentences, overuse of pronouns, pacing. I have also been heavily crit on having tons of errors in my posts, so neither is perfect or will replace a good edit.

I will say that the pro-writing aid did show me some structural errors and weak wording errors before critters had to point them out. Neither is a replacement for a good proofread.
Jongoff 4 Mar at 03:05  
The idea that you would hire an Editor to to do all of your editing for you is actually a fallacy. Most writers should and need to make their finished product as perfect as they possibly can before even thinking of sending it into a publishing house or even to an editor for that matter. Editing is primarily your responsibility, not somebody else's that you pay to do it for you. After you've gotten it as good as you possibly can then you can consider having an editor go over it again to catch things you might have missed
Grimraven 4 Mar at 22:44  
Jongoff
The idea that you would hire an Editor to to do all of your editing for you is actually a fallacy. Most writers should and need to make their finished product as perfect as they possibly can before even thinking of sending it into a publishing house or even to an editor for that matter. Editing is primarily your responsibility, not somebody else's that you pay to do it for you. After you've gotten it as good as you possibly can then you can consider having an editor go over it again to catch things you might have missed
I agree.
__________________
"What are you going to do, bleed on me?" - King Arthur

Perezbalen 17 Mar at 07:15  
Great series of posts. Just binge them. Thanks for taking the time to write them.

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