It's been a busy holiday season for me, not just as a person, but as a writer. I've been looking at edits, proofs, galleys, and marketing documents, and one thing has become painfully clear.
It's almost impossible to edit yourself and do it well.
I have to admit, one of the files had been through two beta readers, and it was still not up to what I want a MS to look like when I turn it in for submission.
So, why is self-editing so hard?
1- Objectivity- it's hard to be objective about your work. Come on, admit it. When we get even a super positive edit from someone we rant and rave about how the editor just didn't get what we meant! How dare they! Then, if we're professional, we suck it up and make changes. Still, it sucks, and that's why we can't do it ourselves. On the flip side of that coin, we can read it and fiddle and fiddle and make changes and never turn in the file. At some point, we have to stop making those changes and let the words go.
2- Distance- In the book industry, we rarely have time to really set a book aside for 3-4 months and then come back to it when we have distance. If we're trying to make even a partial living at this, we're writing to deadline. So, we never get enough distance to see the mistakes we make.
3- Familiarity- As writers, we know what we mean. We know our own words. We turn a blind eye to our bad habits. That's why they're bad habits, right? We overuse words and phrases. It's tough to edit them out when we love them.
So, what do we do to get past our lack of clarity about our own work?
Get beta readers. Good ones. If someone isn't a good one, well, you can be nice and let them read, but don't depend on them. If you're self publishing, put aside money to hire an editor freelance. If you can't afford that, then change the format. Seriously, make a PDF of the file and read that. We see different things in different formats.
Read it out loud. I especially espouse this with dialogue and with marketing materials. Blurbs. Read them aloud. If you stumble, change what you tripped over.
Put it away. Even if it's just for a week. Don't poke at it like a sore tooth. Go dancing. See a movie. Come back to it with fresh eyes.
Make notes as you write. Names. Hair color. The dog's name. Refer to this list on your read through. Do a search for hair and eyes and tall and such to make sure they're consistent for each character.
Finally, admit that sometimes we let embarrassing mistakes happen, and pass by us, and send that MS in. Self-editing can only take you so far. Even if it is so darned hard to figure out, you do the best you can and move on.