Writing Techniques: Self-editing and revising!

Now, the following post is based solely on MY methods. This is what works for me, but might not work for all writers. We are all wired differently, and there is no universal “right” way to do things. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I am going to share my personal methods for self-editing and revising.

1.) READING OUT LOUD
Reading your work out loud to yourself may be a little embarrassing at first, and, if you’re like me, you wait until there is no one else around in order to do it, but I have found it to be incredibly helpful. Not only does it enable me to catch pesky grammar errors, such as misplaced commas or accidental double spaces, but it helps pinpoint awkward wording, and gives an audible example of how long it takes between scenes/chapters. This way, it’s easier to peg where the story drags, of if the pacing is off.

2.) DON’T FEAR THE ‘DELETE’
Writers are attached to their work. We create from our hearts, and sometimes, a scene or character might not fit into a story as seamlessly as we imagine, even if we love them. I chopped off an entire chapter of my latest MS, even though I liked it a lot, because I realized the ending worked better without it. I also slimmed down the role of and changed the personality of a character, because he didn’t fit in well with the way the story was headed. I wish I had cut out the epilogue of I’m With You, and thus left the end to the reader’s imagination – and I hope to never make such a mistake again. I also once received professional feedback on a first draft and was told that a character/scene seemed out of place, and it was suggested that I remove it. I knew I didn’t want to do that, though I recognized that, if I wasn’t cutting it out entirely, I needed to make changes in order to make those parts weave into the narrative more effectively. So, instead, I edited those portions of the story and was able to implement changes to make the elements work better. It’s hard to delete work you’re proud of, whether it be a full chapter, or a character, or even a whole plot point, buy sacrifices are sometimes necessary, so it’s important not to fear the backspace or delete buttons.

3.) INTERPRET FEEDBACK
I have gotten incredibly helpful and important feedback on my work from a variety of sources, both professional and personal. But just because someone tells you their opinion on a facet of your work doesn’t mean you have to do what they suggest, though you should hear them out. If I don’t agree with something that is pointed out to me, I try to pinpoint why they felt that way, and then reassess my options. As I mentioned before, I had someone tell me that I might be better deleting an element of a story, but instead, I edited it to suit the narrative in a more effective manner. So feedback, whether it be positive or negative, can be the gateway to more options for self-improvement and self-editing.

4.) KNOW YOUR WEAKNESSES
I know my writing-related weaknesses very well, but, despite being aware of them, I am known to slip up. It happens for all of us, I’m sure. So, when I’m poring over my latest project, those errors are the first thing that I look for, both grammatical and content-wise. For example, I recently noticed that I used the word ‘accentuate’ twice within four paragraphs. Like.. why.

5.) TAKE YOUR TIME
This might not be the most fun phase of the writing process… and trust me, I agree that it absolutely is not. But it is arguably one of the most vital, so rushing it is a big no-no. It is important to take a focused, objective look at your work – ideally, more than once, and even more than twice – in order to polish it as much as possible, especially if you are seeking publication. You want to be your best, and show your best work. So take your time, and don’t rush it.

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Writing Techniques: Feedback

There is one aspect of writing that I have always feared the most, and that is receiving feedback on my work. It’s a dangerous beast, one that can either make your spirit soar, or tear your heart out. Any time I send any piece of writing out for a fresh opinion, the butterfly factory never fails to start pumping in my stomach. And though it’s an integral part of the writing process, it also raises a relentless battalion of “What ifs?”

What if they don’t like it? What if they tell me I should change everything? What if they say I should just give up? 

Of course, the big one is the first one, and, well… maybe they won’t like it. So what? Not everyone is going to like what you write, that’s impossibly idealistic. And sure, a critique partner or editor or beta reader might tell you that there are things that don’t work, or things you should change, or things that need to be cut so others may be salvaged. But most of the time – if they’re truly trying to be helpful – they’re also going to tell you why they think that. They’re going to give you reasons to back up their criticism, whether you ultimately follow it or not, and it might help you realize flaws or recurring issues in your writing before it reaches a wider audience.

Basically, feedback – positive, negative, and the in-between – is vital, no matter how nervous it makes you to ask for it. And trust me, the very thought of someone else reading my unpolished writing makes my anxiety rocket through the ceiling, every single time, without fail. It’s natural – I’m certainly not the first to feel that way.  But without a handful of outside opinions to steer you in the right direction, can you really improve your writing, or recognize what can be changed for the better?

Though it’s not quite the same as a beta reader, I have worked on my current MS (YA fantasy) with a freelance editor who has been immensely helpful. I was terrified to do it – to have someone I don’t know look over my work – but once I received her feedback, I knew I’d made the right choice, and I’m so grateful she was willing to work with me. She pointed out inconsistencies, pinpointed areas that needed clarification, and advised me on certain tidbits that needed anything from a complete overhaul to some minor tweaking, and she did so in a professional way and had reasons to back up each point. Plus, she told me what did work, so it didn’t feel like a laundry list of errors being hurled at me. I didn’t feel torn down or attacked by her critiques, I felt inspired to fix what needed to be fixed, and I have much more confidence in the current, more focused version of my manuscript than the first one I sent her, all thanks to her valid guidance.

I also sent off my MS to be copy-edited my my godmother, who is a retired English teacher. She not only taught me the proper use of a semicolon, which has consistently eluded me, but sticky-noted and marked all of my errors and then explained them. Plus she gave me her overall opinion and impression at the end, so her feedback was doubly helpful! I’m super happy to have her in my corner, and her support means the world to me. Now, I can recognize recurring grammar pitfalls and tread around them instead of tumbling into them.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had any luck finding a writer’s group in my area (maybe I should start one?) that has fellow YA writers, so mostly, I deal with my writing solo. I haven’t had a solid “workshop” group since college, and even then it was mainly for class. I don’t like inconveniencing people by asking them to read my work, an issue I need to work on, and I’d like to reach out to fellow YA writers online and build or join some kind of writing circle. But, in an effort to grab some fresh opinions, I’ve recently asked for feedback on my query letter from two friends of mine from college, whose work I’ve admired and opinions I value. And it was so incredibly helpful to have their feedback I can’t believe I didn’t think of asking them sooner. I’ve even asked one of them to take a look at the first few chapters of the manuscript, and I look forward to hearing back from him.

As someone with a history of (extensive) dabbling in fanfiction, and who has released an independent book, I’m not a stranger to feedback, though I am still looking to broaden my horizons before any future projects are released. Some feedback will be helpful to writers, some won’t – but it’s worth it to glean fresh opinions, no matter how fearful you are of what they’ll say. It’s still difficult, at times, to put myself out there – a feeling I’m sure that many writers share, because not all feedback will be glowing praise of your work. Some folks will gladly kick your ass rather than kiss it. But I firmly believe that constructive criticism is a necessity if you want to improve your skills, and write the best story you can.

On a side note, if you’re a fellow YA writer looking to possibly connect with a freelance editor, please drop me a line and I’ll let you know how I went about it!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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