So many writers never reach even this point in production, or worse, they skip it. They get stuck on writing and never finish. But if you are among the lucky few who finish a story, you must move on to editing.

This post is titled self-editing, but before we even get to that, let me say it as loudly as I possibly can, to wake up those of you who might be sitting in the back of the classroom dozing.

You cannot skip the editing process, and publish something unedited. You cannot edit your own work. You need to hire an editor.

Let me say it again, just in case:

You cannot skip the editing process, and publish something unedited. You cannot edit your own work. You need to hire an editor.

Now stop. I can hear some of your arguments already, so I am just going to make a list for you here of the ones that are invalid:

  • I was an English Major.
  • My mom is an English teacher, she does it for me.
  • I have an MFA.
  • My spouse has an MFA.
  • I can edit my own stuff. I use method “x” with “x” software.
  • I took a course on self-editing at “x” writer’s conference.
  • My favorite indie author, “x” just uses beta readers, not an editor, and his/her stuff is pretty good.

Here’s the thing. Probably 99% of the population cannot edit or even proofread their own work effectively. The rest of us hate the 1% who can. Even if you are one of the rare authors who can proof or edit your own work, you should not. Just like you should probably not create your own covers even if you are a trained graphic designer, although we will cover that (pun intended) in another blog post.  

Here are some of the reasons why you should never be the sole creator and editor, or in other words, the sole producer of your work.

You become word blind.

What this means is that unless it has been a really long time since you have seen what you have written (and sometimes no length of time is enough to cure this) you see what you meant to write. You see those words whether those are really what is there or not.

Recently I read one of my own blog posts I had written two years ago and found a typo. A typo I did not see at the time, that grammar check did not catch, but that was glaring all that time later. No one noticed it either, or at least no one who did pointed it out to me. The thing is, in context, it almost looked right even after that much time had passed.

If you are writing quickly, as you should be, and editing shortly afterward, there is no way you will catch these things yourself. I promise you will miss at least one or two in a medium length work. In a novel, you might miss several.

You are in love with your own words.

Go ahead, tell me you aren’t. Then show me that clever phrase, that joke you think is hilarious, or that gorgeous description on page 53 of your self-published (or hopefully yet to be published) novel. Those are probably things you should cut out.

As Stephen King says, “Kill your darlings.” If you don’t believe me, take a journalism course and then write for a paper or magazine of any size. You will find that your editor and your readers do not love your precious words and phrases nearly as much as you do.

Here is the thing: as an author, you have built a fire with your story. The likelihood is that there is some damp wood in there, some moss, or some torn up cardboard. It makes for a lot of smoke. The job of an editor is to clear away the smoke so that everyone can see and enjoy the fire.

You cannot do this yourself effectively. Please, on this one point trust me. I can read a few chapters or maybe even pages in your book, and I can tell if you edited it yourself. There will be a whole lot of “you” in the way of the story.

Your project will feel narcissistic.

All of that you in the way will show through. Your book will feel like one of those body builders in the gym who spends as much time looking at himself in the mirror as he does pumping iron. It will probably feel like it is all about you. Because it is.

You need another set of eyes, another voice, one that is not close to you or at least can be objective about the way your work is presented. More on why you should not use relatives or those close to you in a moment.

A professional editor can see things you cannot: they see phrases you use too often, things you repeat often, and redundant descriptions you may miss. They can hear when your dialogue is stilted, and can offer advice about better word choices, sentence structure, and even point out when your plot has holes you may not notice, but that a reader will.

It is a good thing that you love your work. It is a good thing that you value your words. It is also good for you to be able to take critique and instruction from an editor at this phase in your journey. Hearing from an editor and changing things now is better than getting bad reviews on Amazon and damaging your reputation, which is your brand. (More on that later in our section on branding).

Note on Relatives: It is rare for a writer to have a relative that can honestly critique their work and make it better without also being word blind and leaving those phrases you love. It is also harder to argue with that person, as it can result in marital or family conflict.

If you are one of the rare people who has a relative who can edit your work objectively, thank your lucky stars and use them. However, I would encourage you to try something. Have your relative edit one of your short stories or novellas, something not too big. Then hire a professional editor to edit it, and compare the two.

If your relative does just as good or a better job than the editor, keep using them. If they do not, keep your eyes open.

Note on Revisions: A part of the writing (production) process we will talk about soon will be revisions. Revisions and rewrites are not a part of the editing process and are also not self-editing. You should revise and rewrite your work before an editor or anyone other than a writing critique partner or someone who reads your work as you go does.

Since we are on the subject, rewrites and revisions should be done quickly too, for the same reasons drafts are written quickly. You do not want your mind or heart to change during the process, or you will do a lot more rewriting than you need to.

Once you have started the editing process, do not do any more rewrites except those recommended by your editor to fix plot holes or other obvious issues. That is the point at which you have to let the story go: it is time to let someone else work on it at that point.

This is of course because we are talking about writing as a business. If your goal is not to sell lots of books, but rather to create a single literary masterpiece in your lifetime, you can revise and rewrite as much as you wish and take as long as you wish to produce drafts before letting anyone else see and edit them.

Exceptions to the Rules:

In the world of publishing and writing, there are exceptions to every rule. There are writers who can edit their own work. There are relatives who do a great job of editing their author brother/husband/son’s work.

There are also authors who can kill their darlings, and create work on their own that does not feel narcissistic. However, if you feel that you are one of these writers and have not tried professional editors, or had someone in the upper reaches of the field validate this truth for you, it probably is not true. If you send your work to a pro editor who hardly touches it, or says to you “You don’t need me, you just need a proofreader” or something along that line, go forth and do wonderful things.

Most of the time, this type of thinking is just self-delusion. If no one close to you is honest enough to tell you the truth about your writing, just try getting one professional, honest opinion. If I am wrong about you, in your case, please email me and let me know. I would love to meet someone who is so extraordinary.

In the next section, we will talk about money for a little bit. After all, this is the stage when you will invest more than just time. You will invest dollars, and a part of a business is working to get the best return on your investment. That does not mean always hiring whoever is the cheapest.

Have questions and can’t wait for the next section of this series? Want to hire me, or just need some coaching advice? Click here or email me at info@troylambertwrites.com.