The process of self-editing can be daunting. While at the ACFW conference, I interviewed some authors about their self-editing techniques. I also circulated the question What self-editing techniques make the process less painful? to the HIS Writers listserve, a historical Christian fiction online writing group.
1. Set Limits: Cindy Woodsmall, New York Times bestselling author, shared one of her successful editing habits with me at one of the conference dinners. She explained that she does deep edits after fifty pages. She doesn’t let the story get too far along without cleaning up what she has written.
Jennifer Hudson Taylor, author of Highland Blessings, echoed Cindy’s comments but stops after each twenty pages of new writing. Jennifer commented that if she was on a roll with something she might let it go a little farther before stopping to deep edit.
2. Focus on Essential Elements: Laurie Alice Eakes, Carol nominee for The Glassblower, and author of thirteen published and under-contract books, focuses on the first three chapters to make sure that they are spot-on before she continues. In those chapters, and in all subsequent scenes and chapters, she makes sure that all Goal Motivation Conflict issues are addressed. If the scene or chapters do not move the story forward, she deletes them.
Susan May Warren, in her “Scene Therapy” class, shared her techniques for getting the most emotional impact out of your characters. This has made a tremendous difference in my own self-editing process. Here’s a link to a summary sheet from the workshop.
3. Postpone Edits: Vicki McCollum, MBT member, freelance editor, Afictionado, and new to the Voices ezine staff, suggests: Set aside the chapter for at least a week before editing it. Try not to edit too much as you go because it may slow you down. Turn off the internal editor if you have a great story idea that you need to get down on paper. Pick it up again later to do the edits.
That’s the goal we should have in mind as the cursor hovers over those words about to be deleted. This is a crucial pain-reducer that published authors comment on in almost any writers’ forum, including My Book Therapy. In fact, maybe I should have listed this first. Happy editing!
Carrie Pagels is coordinator of the Tidewater Christian Writers and moderator of Colonial American Christian Writers listserve. She is a member of ACFW, FCW, MBT, HisWriters, and Chesapeake Bay Writers.