The Writer as Editor: Tools to Use

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As we’ve been discussing over the last few blogs, switching hats from writing to editing can be a bit…challenging. In fact, it can make you feel like your poor head is about to explode! However, you can make the process easier by following the tips from last week’s blog by not letting the editor and writer come out to play at the same time, and by giving yourself time away from the scene/chapter/manuscript you just finished.

But when you’ve done both of those, and it’s time to get into the edit, how do you make sure you catch the real issues? How do you edit your own work? This week and next, we’ll look at six tools you can use to do that with excellence and ease.

Tip #1: Accept Your Limitations. It’s a simple fact, friends: we’ll never be able to edit our own work as well as we edit others’ writing. We see so much more when we read what others have written than we tend to see in our own work. That’s normal, and it’s okay.

Tip #2: Make A Checklist Of Your Weaknesses. We all have them, those little bugaboos that slip into everything we write. Things we seem blind to when we’re writing, and can too often overlook when we’re editing. So how to be sure we’re catching the places where we’re weak?

One of the most valuable things an editor did for me was to write up a checklist of “Things Karen Needs to Watch for in Her Writing.” She listed overused terms/words/beats (for example, if people laughed, nodded, and smiled as often as I had my characters doing those things, they’d be bobble-heads in someone’s rear car window!), cautions, and grammar and craft issues she’d seen repeated in several manuscripts.

Now, when it’s time to edit my work, I pull that checklist out and go down it, systematically checking my manuscript to see if I’ve fallen back into bad habits. And when I discover new bad habits, I add them to the list.

You can make a general writing checklist, and you can create a checklist for each book, pinpointing the issues you want to deal with in the editing stage, be it craft or elements that need more research. That way you don’t have to worry about remembering these kinds of things as you’re writing. It’s all there, ready and waiting for you when you’re ready to jump into editing.

Third, enlist the help of others. Remember how we don’t see as many things in our own work as we see in others’ work? Well, make that work for you! How? By having one or two crit partners go over your manuscript using your checklist. Ask them to add anything to the list that you’ve missed.

Okay, that’s the first three. Next week we’ll take a look at pulling threads, using your ears, and tightening the (writing) belt.

12 Responses to The Writer as Editor: Tools to Use

  1. Amy Boucher Pye February 6, 2013 at 3:47 am #

    What a huge gift to have that list from your editor! A gift that keeps on giving. More reasons for a Hug Your Editor day… Great post; thanks, Karen.

  2. Ron Estrada February 6, 2013 at 4:04 am #

    Funny, I’d never thought of making a “personal weaknesses” checklist. I use a list that I made from “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.” But that’s a bit long and I’m not really guilty of a lot of things on that list, so I end up wasting a lot of time. I think number one on my personal list would be “laughed without humor.” I use that one too much. It happens a lot in real life, but there are better ways to say it.

  3. Jackie Layton February 6, 2013 at 5:12 am #

    What a great idea.

    I’m part of a crit group, and I’ll make a list and see what pops up frequently.

    Thanks so much.

  4. Diana Harkness February 6, 2013 at 5:46 am #

    Where do we find that editor that will write the list of my bad habits? For sure, I have noticed a lot on my own and corrected them. I’ve picked through my novel with a fine-toothed comb and removed/rewritten everything that’s wrong (shifting POV, vague descriptions, overused words, inconsistent character development). I’ve seen recommendations on the web for editors, but they are all pricey and cross country. How do I know who to trust with my hard-earned funds? I’ve run my novel through autocrit. I’ve had people read it but all they say is that they want more or comment on easily corrected grammatical mistakes. I’ve rewritten it so many times that I’m ready to move on. In fact, I have moved on and am writing/editing my second novel. But the first one needs to be published since the second is a sequel. What should I do next? Please give us some guidance on finding a good editor.

    • Susan Karsten February 6, 2013 at 6:39 am #

      Diana has some great questions. I will await any answers. I am about to embark on my 3rd novel, and it is the 3rd in a series.

  5. Lisa February 6, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    I love that, know your limitations!

  6. Robin Patchen February 6, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    I think I’ll start that list of my own weaknesses today. I’m afraid it’ll go into the tens of thousands of words–novella length! :)

    I was listening to one of your seminars from the ACFW conference yesterday in my car, and you mentioned a book I wanted to get. So today, when I saw the title of your blog, it reminded me. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is on its way from Amazon as we speak.

    Thanks for all the great advice.

  7. Carole Lehr Johnson February 6, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    I never thought of making a checklist of my editing weaknesses. Great point. I’m thankful that I do have many friends who are more than willing to edit for me. They have caught things that I read completely over and didn’t notice.
    Great post, Karen. Thanks.

  8. Jeanne T February 6, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    Karen, these are great tips. I love that an editor gave you a list of your writing “go-to’s”/weaknesses to work on. I should begin compiling one for my writing, and ask my crit partners to help me identify them. This is definitely a “come-back-to” post for me. Thanks!

  9. April W Gardner February 6, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    Oooh! Make a list of my mistakes to reference. Great tip!

  10. Elizabeth Kitchens February 7, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Great suggestion. I just received a crit that pointed out my tendency to use long sentences. That will be first on my list!


  1. The Writer as Editor: More Tools to Use | The Steve Laube Agency - February 13, 2013

    [...] how to edit your own writing? Well, we already talked about three helpful tools in my post last week. Now, let’s take a look at three [...]

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