Thursday, July 23, 2015

Taking a Stand on Self-Editing

by Patricia Cates

Do you ever feel like you are walking a tight rope with your writing? You can't see the forest through the trees. You are on the brink of a breakdown and you hear your own voice calling out from a cliff top saying, "IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE LOST IN EDITING…editing…editing…? HELLO...Hello...hello...IS ANYBODY THERE…there…there…?” 

photo courtesy of

Guess what? There's actually a lot of us trekking out there! I know it's quiet...but if you look really hard you can see us way out in the distance. Grab your binoculars and take a looksee. And guess what? There is a really convenient set of zigzagging redwood stairs that lead right to camp. (And hey we're in the company of about 250 scouts to the east so we're extra safe.) It sure feels good to know that there is a terrific group of fellow writers right here to help guide us along this journey. 

Looking back through MMW posts I noticed that the last time any bloggers delved into the subject of editing was back in March of 2013, so I thought I’d mention it again. There you'll find a terrific post by Mandi worthy of another read. It mentions a book entitled “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King. I am always looking to improve and emphasize the need for confidence in this area.

So last month I was fortunate enough to share my blog post with Sue Grafton. I mentioned to her that she was an author whom I admired and thought of, when I was in need of streamlining and refocusing. Her style is straightforward and flows well, and her characters feel like family.  She was gracious enough to give me a bit of advice to share here with everyone. Although it wasn’t a huge interview, this is what she told me:
“Trimming and editing is essential. I think it’s fabulous to write from the heart---almost stream-of-consciousness---while you get that first draft on paper. After that, you have to be ruthless. I think of it as taking 00 sandpaper to my work. I tend to edit and revise as I go along, but I’ve been at this for over 50 years.”

How wonderful to get advice from such a seasoned author. It just solidified my stance on this entire writing process as being such a deeply personal one. She says "YOU" have to be ruthless. That means that you have to edit your own work...and maybe with some sand paper. Our books are our babies. They originate from our hearts. Do you want to entrust them into the hands of a stranger, or a software program? Her example is one that I hope sticks around for a very long while.
Are you a writer who self-edits? If so why? Do you love it? Are you maybe a little bit of a control freak? As most of you know it can be super time consuming, but when it’s your passion, it’s just what you do. For those who detest editing, when you need help, where do you turn? Of course you know it’s imperative to find someone you trust implicitly. If this is you please make sure it's someone you can collaborate with in a marriage type way.

I don’t know about the majority of you, but I love editing. That’s why hours go by that feel like minutes. It is such a blast. And yes I am a control freak to the max. So when I found out about all of the editing software available for purchase, I was pretty ticked. To think that there could come a day when we potentially are all makes me fume and cringe at the same time. This lack of a need for humans I assume started somewhere around the time of the assembly line, and has since advanced to computers doing all of the thinking (and now apparently robots.) I truly would like to see this sort of technology fall flat on its round silver face and stay the heck away from our precious little literary world.
I will surely never be caught buying any editing software, but I can see the temptation for people who struggle with this aspect. These programs do promise to cut down on time spent, but remember that a content editing job is one that takes insight and emotion into the author and the characters.

Additionally the power in self-editing is what keeps the novel true to you. How many times have you read a book where you felt like the voice changed midway through? I have put down a few best-sellers over the years, due to the fact that the first 3rd of the book rocked it, and then it felt like someone else completely was writing the thing. Super disappointing. My question is always a resounding why?

I also feel that sometimes there are just so many talented folks out of work and I want those jobs saved. What a jolly slap in the face these programmers are virtually giving to the very folks who wrote their textbooks for them! Whether it is the entry level job of a copy editor, or someone getting a part time freelance gig proofreading, the wonder of words for many of us is the passion in life that keeps us occupied and consumed. For some mom's it is often what helps a family make ends meet. The pay is rarely great, but even if that little is taken away, it will be a sad day indeed.

Okay enough said. In conclusion my advice today is simply to enjoy staying lost in the wilderness of editing. Work on it. There’s a breathtaking view from the rim of the canyon. Take it all in before it’s lost to developers.


  1. So, honestly, there is plenty in the world of writing and editing that I simply don't think will ever be programmable. Too much of editing relies on judgment, not hard and fast rules. The stuff that relies on rules is already largely being dealt with by computers anyway (ah, spell check!), although I'm sure they will get better over time. I just don't think people can ever be completely replaced.

    Also, when I think of editing, there are levels. There's big, global content editing all the way down to tiny details in proofreading. Me, I struggle with the big stuff in my own writing (because sometimes I just want to scream at the computer instead of solving my story problems), but I love the littler stuff. But other people are opposite. Crazy people. :)

  2. There is something so freeing about deleting giant paragraphs from my work. I kind of love editing too, because it means that I know that what's there is the best of the best- no junk allowed! But I also love it when I let others edit- they will often give me the excuse I need to cut even more.



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