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My Self-Editing Process: A Painful Kind of Clean Up

Updated: Jul 16, 2021

I worked on it for fourteen days that could have easily rolled into one year. I took a month-long break from the manuscript. Then one weekend, I read the entire thing. It needed a ton of work. Some of my favorite YouTuber author types had prepared me that a first draft could (and likely would) be a hot mess. My first draft did not disappoint. I cringed.

So, every morning, I sat with a chapter and read it three times. First, there was a plain read to see how it flowed. And how it made me feel. I wanted to see if the right emotion was conveyed. Then I would read it a second time. I wanted to make sure the sentences were not clunky. I had to eliminate weak words, lazy writing, and adjust quotation marks and commas. Lots and lots of comma adjustments. I use commas like a security blanket. I’ve got to work on it. My final read surveyed if the recent edits worked. At times they did. At times they did not.

Sometimes, it wasn’t just rearranging sentences and punctuation. In fact, I rearranged the entire layout of the book through the first twenty chapters. There were points where the changes needed were so massive, I just stared at the page and had to admit it would be best to go do something else. I hoped that whatever that something else was, it would help me clear my mind and see another pathway for the story to come to bear. I walked. I gardened. I slept. I watched Catfish. I also worried that the new layout would create problems with the plot – but I knew it would help the pacing.

When I was in high school and college, I would always be excited to submit first drafts of my work. But I would seriously dread second draft submission dates. I’d become frustrated. I never wanted to do more than one pass. I’m not sure what I was thinking. Self-editing is incredibly humbling and maybe I wasn't mature enough for it at the time.

The sentence or passage you think is so beautifully written may need to be condensed, slashed, or completely chopped to bits for the sake of the story. It’s hard to do. At times, it's hard to even see what things need to be subjected to that brutally necessary process.

I am working with a professional editor, too. And I am worried about her upcoming feedback. But then, I’m intrigued to see what recommendations she will make. I believe they will elevate the story so I can present you with the very best I can muster for my debut novel. I also know without doubt her recommendations will elevate me as a writer. Just her sample edits made me take a long look in the mirror – just me and my comma issue. That makes me laugh. And it makes me glad. Anyone, or thing, that improves my writing craft is like gold to me.


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