How to Edit Your Own Writing
Last weekend I spoke at the WriteNow Newcastle conference on how to edit your own writing. I tried to fit a ludicrously ambitious amount of information into a 40-minute workshop, so rather than expecting all the participants to make frantic notes I’m writing it here.
I hope this will be of use to any aspiring or beginning writer who wants to learn how to better edit their work. It’s geared towards prose fiction, but is hopefully applicable to many sorts of writing. This method is adapted from Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King, which I highly recommend you read as this post is just a bare-bones overview of the process. If you feel you need more help, you can also hire me as a mentor or editor.
Here are some tips before we start:
- Give it time. The editing and rewriting should take at least as long as writing your first draft.
- You’ll be doing 13 rounds of edits, looking at big-picture stuff first, then gradually circling round to more specific elements.
- Remember that you won’t be re-writing every single word every single time, so while some passes will take a lot of time, some will be quick.
- You may require more than 13 rounds. For example, I write magical realism/fantasy, so I need an additional pass to ensure that the non-realism rules I’ve put in place are consistent. If you’re not great with spelling or punctuation, you may need an additional final pass to check this.
- This is just a loose overview, and is totally adaptable to your own writing.
Ready to start editing? Great! Here’s Round 1: Show vs. Tell
Goodbye, summer! I managed to wear my sunglasses and sandals at least twenty times, which for Scotland isn’t bad going. I also spent a glorious ten days in the south of England with my wife and our dog, swimming and eating and generally forgetting about the rest of the world – and reading, of course.
After that I spent six weeks on a residency at Cove Park, a beautiful place with a loch and Highland cows and all the reading and writing time you could ever want. I was working on my new book, a collection of horror stories, so I was reading a lot of horror and strange short fiction, and – let’s be honest – going a bit odd. I always do that on residencies, and I like to believe that I can’t really produce good writing unless I’ve gone a bit odd. Though perhaps my family and friends would prefer that not to be the case.
Hopefully this explains this mix of favourites from the last few months, which I have conveniently put into two categories…
I’m halfway through a six-week writing retreat on the west coast of Scotland to work on a new book. In the past few years, I’ve spend a lot of time alone – whether on writing retreats, working alone at home, or travelling the UK and Europe for book events and festivals. Books have been my best company in these times, and if you’re also going to be doing some solo travel then books can keep you company too.
Whether you love the loneliness or want to make some word-based friends, here are my best books for travelling alone:
I’ve read a lot of books this March and April, but I’ll be honest: they’re mostly Point Horror! I’ve been working on a brand new podcast, Teenage Scream, about Point Horror and other 90s teen horror. I’m absolutely loving it, and it will be launching next month so I’ll post links then.
I have managed to fit in some other reading too, mostly non-fiction. Here are the best books from March and April:
January and February are always busy reading months for me. Scotland isn’t known for its sunny weather, and generally the start of the year is pretty cold and windy – and to me, lovely, as it means I get to stay in with a good book and a cup of something hot. Bliss. It’s been a particularly good few months for graphic novels and short stories for me, so perhaps next month I’ll get stuck into a longer novel.
Here are the best books I’ve read so far this year: