ROW80 Check-In #5 The art of self-editing your novel

Hello gentle reader,

6 weeks into ROW80, I am happy to announce that I have had a breakthrough in my self-editing process. As a reminder, my goal for this ROW80 is to edit my YA Fantasy manuscript The Last Queen and to have a final draft for it by the end of June.

So, up until this week I wasn’t very organized to self-edit my novel: I knew I had to cut 20K words and tidy up the whole thing, but the way I went about doing it was quite random and unsystematic.

But this week, I decided I had wasted enough time playing around with my MS and being inefficient. It was time to be professional and serious about this self-editing process.

It was time to slay some bad writing habits and come up with a shiny, edited and readable manuscript.

Today I am going to share my method to self-edit my novel, as maybe some of you, fellow would-be-published writers out there, are still struggling with this process.

Step 1: Finish the first draft of your novel. Your book has a beginning, a middle and an end. Congratulations on making it this far. Now put the manuscript away in a drawer for at least a couple of weeks and celebrate.

Step 2: Recover from celebration. then read two amazing books on the craft of writing.

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman 

This one is not only a hilarious read, but it will also help you reflect on the main aspects of your novel: the plot, the characters, the setting. It is a great way to evaluate if your book has cartoonish villains, a plot so complex even you have lost track of it, or a setting so clichéd it will make any publisher nod off.

Self-editing for fiction writers by Browne and King

This second book is great for the next step of your self-evaluation: it will help you see the mistakes you have made regarding style, dialogue, points of view, beats, proportion and repetitions.

Once you have read those two books (or others like them), you can move on to…

Step 3: Know your strengths.

These you will know from experience and from the feedback of your beta readers. For example, I know that I don’t really need to amend the plot and characterization in The Last Queen. Devising a complicated plot that falls into place by the end is what I know to do best. Once you know what is great about your novel, you can focus on amending what needs to be edited, rather than wasting time fiddling with characters that are already well-written.

Step 4: Know your weaknesses.

From your readings, you should know by now what is probably not that great in your Beloved Manuscript. One of my main problems in The Last Queen is repetition. For you, it might be settings that are too detailed, lengthy paragraphs with boring content, and so on. Just know what they are. Because it is only then that you can…

Step 5: Make a checklist of what you want to edit in your novel. Edit your novel.

I love lists. They are a great tool when you self-edit as you can have yours by your computer while you read through each scene/chapter. Read each scene, and check it against your list of mistakes. If you have committed any, you edit, then move on to the next scene.

Step 6: Finish self-editing your Precious Manuscript. Celebrate some more.

Step 7: Repeat Steps 5 and 6 a few times before thinking about sending your Masterpiece to an agent.

That’s it for me. How are you other ROW80 writers doing?

Here is the Linky for the other check-in posts.

18 thoughts on “ROW80 Check-In #5 The art of self-editing your novel

  1. joystory says:

    Good advice. Mmm. I think my weakness must be plot since I’m always getting stuck in the middle section. Plus I resist writing the scenes in which the villain or antagonist is featured.

    I just joined ROW80 Friday linking my round goals to last Wednesday’s check-in. But for Sunday’s check-in I continued to put thought into the goals and tweaked the list and even crossed some items off. I believe it is the goals list itself that is my major accomplishment possibly rivaled by having opened my NaNo novel files for the first time in months to confront the messes that have been scaring me off.

    • EM Castellan says:

      Hello there and welcome to ROW80! I tried to leave a comment on your blog but I’m not certain it worked. Anyways, thanks for stopping by! Getting your goal list right is already a good step, I hope you have a good week trying to meet them 🙂

  2. crystalwriterak says:

    Good post, I always have trouble of self editing. I usually find I prefer to print off the manuscript.

  3. kathils says:

    Excellent post! I’m going to have to check into those books you mentioned. Although, I’m a tad worried to find out how many of the 200 mistakes I’ve made. ;p My biggest weakness? Dramatic repetition. Yup. Beat the reader over the head with it until they beg for mercy. Then, once they’ve recovered, smack them once more as a reminder. Yikes.

  4. Shah Wharton says:

    I love these tips – thing is I don’t have time to read those books – although a recent read was Chuck Wendigs 500 ways to improve your writing – hilarious and informative. And I do refer to a few others too. No one has read my MS yet. I’m editing now to give to the betas – then I’ll edit again after that. So I’l be better prepared for that then. It’s difficult to edit without feedback, but I found the difference in reading it through on paper as appose to on screen enormous! I edited 400 pages on paper and now I’m applying those edits (albeit slowly – yawn – Bleh) 🙂 X

  5. alberta says:

    good list – my main prob is repetition of fav. words, (apart from, that is, spelling, puctuation and grammar!!!) I go through and through them – pass each section through three different software checks as well and then pass them onto friend from forever/editor who hopefully doesn’t find too many more:) so tedious but result at the other end – so good

    all the best for coming week:)

  6. EM Castellan says:

    Editing on paper is actually recommended by “Self-editing for fiction writers” so you’re doing the right thing. And the editing is supposed to be slow, unfortunately… However don’t be afraid to have a few early beta readers take a look at your novel: if they like it, it’s an incredible motivational boost (an YES, they will like it, no question there 🙂 ). Thanks for the follow and shootout on Twitter!

  7. EM Castellan says:

    Repetitions are many writers’ problem, I think: we feel that the reader needs to be told the same thing several times before getting it, when really, once is enough… Good luck to all with your writing this week!

  8. alberta says:

    can I add a comment for Joy cannot find where to leave a comment on her blog?

  9. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the two books you mention. I’ll definitely have to add them both to the ol’ list 🙂 Fun post. Wishing you all the best with the upcoming week.

  10. Kat Morrisey says:

    Great tips! I have bookmarked the post so when I get to that phase with my WiP I can review them. I also need to add those books to my Goodreads list (it is getting really long lol!) Good luck with the editing and have a great week!

  11. Red Angel says:

    You have a beautiful website! Congrats on beginning your self-editing process. I love your awesome awesome step-by-step guide… it makes the idea of self-editing actually a bit more, well, fun. Also, because you used an image from Despicable Me, I LOVE YOU!

    Have a great day 😛

    ~Wendy Lu

    The Red Angel Blog

  12. EM Castellan says:

    Hello there and thank you! I’m just hoping that this post can help some of you avoid the time wasting I have done in the past few weeks… Glad you enjoyed it! Writing is fun, editing should be too!

  13. Juliana Haygert says:

    Great advice, nice list you have there, Em.
    I’m a list lover too!
    Way to go!

  14. Em says:

    Great advice thank you! I have so much to learn about the editing process…once I get there!

    Hope you have another productive week 🙂

  15. Eden says:

    Hi, EM, and happy “Got a lot of self-editing done” day 🙂

    I love your overview here. I think the killer ends up when you have to repeat steps 5 and 6 so many times. It does get challenging to maintain enthusiasm. Glad that we’re kind of all in this together, because it can get lonely at the keyboard. And sometimes when we’re drowning in all that paper it can get difficult too. 😉

    Have a great week.

  16. deniz says:

    Ooh, a checklist! Better than me, who just wades in and hopes for the best.

  17. Gene Lempp says:

    Excellent advice and I’m glad to see that you found your rhythm. Hard thing to do and I know there are a few areas I’m still struggling with as well (have to put those on my new weaknesses list). Have a great week, EM 🙂

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