Saturday, November 11

A Plan for Self-Editing

This was how I felt when I reread my manuscript. Not happy.
Last week I was telling you my tale of woe regarding the manuscript I’m hoping to get into shape and submit to a publisher. I’d written this manuscript a couple of years ago and then put it aside. I thought it was fairly decent, but when I reread it, I was bummed out. It needs reworking. I wallowed in disappointment for a while, and then in an effort to get myself unstuck, I started to think of ways I could revive and renew this manuscript. Here's my plan to whip this puppy into shape and hopefully get myself pumped up about this story again:

1. Getting to know you. I think I get into trouble when I don’t know my characters well enough. I also get into trouble when I don’t know details of my story well enough. For instance, in the three-book series I’ve been working on with my editor, she pointed out that I had all kinds of inconsistencies between the books, and even within the same book. Things like ages of characters, the timing of when certain events occurred in the past, and so on. So, I’m going back to the drawing board to make sure I know my characters and their motivations, and to make sure know where my story is going. I want my characters, especially my heroine, to be strong and interesting. No more crying at the drop of a hat!

2. Throw away the crutches! All writers have certain words they tend to overuse and depend on, like crutches. Turns out I have several words and phrases that I overuse. I knew of some of them already – just, that, smiled – but I had no idea how many times I used “felt” and “took” until it was pointed out to me. When I looked at the manuscript I’m trying to fix, I saw the same overuse. These words aren’t called crutches for nothing. I lean on them, using them as an easy fix instead of coming up with a much more imaginative, or stronger word or expression. First order of business: use ‘find and replace’ to eliminate or at least cut down on my crutch words.

3. More Crutches! In my recent round of edits, I discovered how often I used the device of asking a question rather than making a statement. Like “Why would he do this to her?” “He wouldn’t hurt her, would he?” and so on. You get the picture. The stupid thing is I didn’t even realize I was doing this. A well-timed question occasionally is fine. But when used over and over, it becomes tedious. Questions be gone! Perhaps your crutch isn’t like mine, but I’m guessing other writers have devices they depend on a little too much. Or maybe I’m just weird.

4. Commenters on Liz’s blog had some great advice. Here’s some things that people suggested on Liz’s blog:

- Stepping away - Take a break from your writing so you can come back and look at your manuscript with fresh eyes. If one project stalls on me, I often work on something else, even if it’s just a blog post. The point is to not stall completely. Keep writing on something.

- Asking a critique partner to give a second opinion - Sometimes, a writer is too close to her work to be able to see it clearly. That’s when it’s a great idea to ask a writing friend or critique partner for advice. Sometimes they can see something that eludes you.

- A whole new character - In her blog, Liz said her characters were acting out of character. In some cases, maybe acting ‘out of character’ is really their true character. Depending on the story, sometimes there’s nothing else to do but to go back to the beginning and change the characters.

- A little dab’l do ya - On the other hand, sometimes all you need is a few tweaks in a few strategic places. The trick is to know what changes to make.

- Changing Point of View – Maybe writing the scene in another character’s point of view is all the difference needed. A rule of thumb is that a scene should be written from the point of view of the character who has the most to lose. But it all depends on what works for your manuscript.

I'd love more advice. How do you get yourself unstuck? If you’ve got a favorite self-editing hack, I’d love to hear it!


  1. One thing I didn't mention here is that sometimes there's nothing else to do but to start all over. Sometimes you have to abandon everything but the main plot idea. I haven't reached that point yet, and I really hope I never do with this project, but it's always an option. The nuclear option, but an option all the same. When I get back to working on this story, I'll try to figure out what to do.

  2. The character GMC chart it a good place to turn to when your h/h are getting a little wishy-washy. I have a loooong editing lust I go through to catch passive verbs and crutch words and such. And the list keeps getting loooonger ;-) Best of luck to you!

    1. Ugghh. My crutch word list gets bigger with every book I write. You'd think it would get smaller, but I find I tend to substitute one for another. I like your idea about checking a character GMC chart. GMC is at the heart of a person's character. Thanks for your input!