Self-Editing & Those Invisible Foibles
Thanks to everyone who commented on last Wednesday’s post, an interview with Martha Graham-Waldon, author of the soon-to-be released (11/14/2015) memoir Nothing Like Normal–Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia. The winner of Martha’s book, chosen via Random.org, is Sioux Roslawski! Congratulations, Sioux, on your win.
Over this last year I’ve done a lot of manuscript editing for other authors, both copyediting and developmental editing—so much, in fact, that I’ve been urged to hang out my editorial shingle (more on that in a few weeks). Turns out I’m good at ferreting out and correcting problems in works written by others. So, now the million dollar question: if I’m so darn good at it, why do I have so much trouble seeing the problems in my own work?
One of my worst habits is showing and then telling what I just showed. It’s as if I don’t trust my ability to show, so I add a bit of help in the form of a telling phrase. My critique partner pointed this out multiple times in the rough draft of Love Built to Last and continued to catch me on it through two subsequent manuscripts despite the fact I now take special care to avoid doing it. I have no trouble noting this issue in work I’m editing for others, but when I review my own manuscript it may as well be invisible.
What is it about our own work that makes it tough to see the problem areas? Lord knows I have no trouble finding flaws when I look in the mirror. If I could take that critical eye and turn it toward my writing, my critique partner would have little to do. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. No matter how flawless I think it is when I send it for that first critical once-over, it always comes back with notes out the wazoo. I read what my critique partner has written and think, “Crap! How did I miss that?” (and that…and that…)
I wonder if it’s because our written work is a lot like our children—we know they aren’t perfect, but because they’re ours it’s easy to overlook imperfections. (Whichever one of my kids is reading this is thinking, “What imperfections? She must be talking about my siblings.” Ha.)
The best solution is to incorporate into our personal editing process methods by which we can find and fix those habitual mistakes. If you’ve been writing a while, you already know most of the tips: set your completed work aside for several weeks before editing, use the find/replace feature on overused words and phrases, print the document and edit with a pen, read the work aloud, read the work backwards, etc. But what if you’re already doing all that and your bad habits still survive?
Here are two links that might be useful. Both are on the website of author Jerry Jenkins. The first is 21 Self-Editing Secrets that Can Supercharge Your Manuscript and the second is A Guest Blog from Stephen King-Yes, that Stephen King, the latter being a redux of Mr. King’s 1986 The Writer magazine article titled “Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully in Ten Minutes.”
As I work to develop a method to search and destroy my own bad writing habits, I will continue to pay homage to the sacred triumvirate of Reading, Writing, and Revision. Eventually, osmosis is bound to set in and reverse some of my bad habits.
Oh, and wine…wine could help.
And chocolate. 🙂
If you’re a writer, what’s your worst writing habit? If you’re not a writer, what mistakes drive you nuts when you read them in published work?
Thanks for hanging out—see you Friday for Observations from the Tub!