Maintaining Momentum: Self-Editing Made Simple
Updated: Mar 10, 2020
I learned to drive a stick-shift truck when I was fourteen. All I had to do was nurse the ancient flatbed pick-up around the ranch in first gear to feed the horses. The problem was, my route started with an ever-so-small uphill slope through narrow gateposts. Starting through that gate was more difficult than the work of loading hay bales onto the truck. The clutch and I had a love-hate relationship. One day, it was feeling particularly temperamental. I eased off the clutch and tiptoed up the gas pedal. Lurch, sputter, choke. I stomped on the brake before the truck rolled too far backward and turned the key in the ignition again. Take two wasn’t any better. Or the third attempt. Every try was the same—rev, shudder, roll.
I stalled in the middle of the barnyard sixteen times. Yep, sixteen—a new record.
I was at the point of tears. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling stuck. This month, despite coming off the high of a writing conference and heading toward another one soon, it’s been surprisingly difficult to muster up the motivation to do, well, much of anything. I have my reasons of course (don’t we all?). And I like to think that they’re justified (aren’t they always?). But the truth is, I’ve simply stalled out.
I think the transition between writing and revising is a common point where people stall out on the road to publication. You’ve got your first draft loaded up and you’ve started the engine, but polishing your piece can be an uphill battle. Writing is often the fun, creative part, whereas making the cuts and changes and rewrites necessary for self-editing can be a challenge. If you’re losing momentum with your manuscript, try these four ways to keep moving forward.
Break Editing Into Bite-Sized Pieces. Take an organized and manageable approach to editing by making multiple passes at your manuscript, each with a different focus. Start by making a list of editing tasks or download the TrailBlaze Self-Editing Checklist. For example, on one pass you might focus on areas where you are telling instead of showing and work on adding sensory details. In another pass you might look for overused words and clichés. For the next round, you could evaluate your transitions. This strategy can be especially helpful if you only have short periods of time in which to edit.
Make Macro Changes First. Evaluate your manuscript for big-picture edits before focusing on the nitty gritty. Start by evaluating your overall outline or plot. You’ll be more efficient if you move a section for better flow or cut a scene that isn’t moving the story forward before honing in on punctuation and grammar.
Take Breaks. The longer we look at our manuscript, the more familiar we get with it. Our mind begins to miss words and errors because it’s so familiar with our message. If you are editing for a long drive, take rest stops to clear your head. Go for a walk, listen to music, do a chore—anything that helps you push reset and return with a fresh approach.
Use Tools Available To You. You know those squiggly red, blue, and green lines in your manuscript? In my experience, when it comes to editing, Microsoft Word’s built-in editor just doesn’t cut it. If you’re not a grammar or punctuation expert, there are a lot of powerful automatic editing tools out there that can make your job easier. Check out the Grammarly plug-in or invest in tools like PerfectIt or ProWritingAid. But remember, no editing software can replace the human eye!
After a lot of perseverance and momentum (which nearly took out the truck mirrors on the gate posts), the horses did eventually get fed that night. Don’t give up, because others need what you’re bringing!