How to Edit Yourself: The Boring Edit

Today I want to highlight some tips on how to edit yourself and identify problem areas in your work. Now, I can give advice until I’m blue in the face, and I know that maybe only 1% of people will actually try it. For example, I routinely tell writers who are struggling with a manuscript to put it away for three months and THEN try revising it. So far, I’ve heard from maybe a handful of writers who’ve tried it. (They loved it, BTW. Just sayin’…)

self-editing, how to edit yourself
Self-editing tip: look for areas in your work where you start to get bored. You’ll want to go back and give those places more attention.

Yet I still persist in giving advice on how to edit yourself! Because it’s good for you! (What a Mom thing to say.) This technique is especially useful if you’ve been told that your writing sags or slumps or stalls. I’m looking at you, Muddy Middle.

Self-Editing Tips

There’s not much of a trick to how to edit yourself, it’s very simple. All that’s required is a printer and some marginal self-awareness. As you “edit,” you only have ONE task. Sounds great, right?

  1. Put your manuscript in single-space formatting. This is so you’ll be less tempted to scribble on it and line edit. Sure, it hurts the ol’ eyeballs, but we all have to suffer for our craft sometimes.
  2. Print it out and pick a time when you can read it as you would any other book. This works best if you have a few solid chunks of time to really kick back and sink into it.
  3. Start reading. Consciously avoid trying to edit as you read. Try and read it like you would any other book.
  4. Have a pen in one hand. The pen is NOT for editing writing.
  5. Look at your own mind as your read. Your one job is this: Put a check mark in the margin whenever you feel yourself starting to drift, mentally. If you start thinking about the grocery list, or what you’re doing this weekend or sinking into a mire of self-loathing about how crappy your manuscript is, or whatever, put a check. That’s it, that’s all. Don’t even analyze it, just put a check mark.

Awesome. Now you have a manuscript with some check marks in the margins. And what does all that self-editing mean?

Parts of Your Book are Boring

I’m sorry. Someone had to say it. But we can’t all be brilliant for 250+ pages, especially in the early stages of crafting a manuscript. Scenes run long. We lose the point of what we’re trying to say. We get more excited about crafting wonderful prose than actually accomplishing any action. Objectives disappear and are replaced by banter that may or may not be witty. Plot points go into hiding. Or maybe you’re just trying to make your 1,667 words for the day because it’s NaNoWriMo. (I’m on to y’all…) It’s OKAY.

With this largely hands-off approach to how to edit yourself, you are identifying the parts of your story that need work. That are, let’s face it, a little boring. (Learn more about how to avoid writing boring characters here.)

The most important take-away is that, if even you can’t focus enough to read it, you can’t expect a reader to slog through. Simple as that. You have a vested interest in this manuscript. Nobody else does. (Yet.) If you’re boring yourself, you need to take a long hard look at those places. Usually the culprit is too much thinking/talking and not enough action. I have tons of plot-related posts you can check out to help beef up in that respect.

So who’s ready to do some self-editing? Who’s excited to do a Boring Edit?

Sometimes it’s impossible to pull of a truly transformational revision alone. Hire me as your manuscript editor, and I will get you unstuck if you’ve been tinkering for too long, or off on the right path to begin with.

8 Replies to “How to Edit Yourself: The Boring Edit”

    1. Sure, that’s why I’m asking you to judge when your mind wanders, instead of calling yourself boring. The title of the post is a bit cheeky… I think everyone’s mind tends to wander when they’re reading, even if they’re reading the most riveting book. It’s difficult, if impossible, to keep 100% focus 100% of the time, or mindfulness practices would be obsolete!

  1. Great timing! This is just what I need to do…and will do next. Thanks for the advice.

  2. Oh, this really resonates. I ask my beta readers to put + or – in the margins as they read. No comments, just the marks. If I see lots of (+) on the page, I know I’m good. A (-) means something is confusing or weird. No marks at all probably means a big old yawn (although maybe now I’ll add the check mark for that). I find this is easier on the beta readers, because I’m not asking for comments, just reactions. I think it makes for a more honest evaluation. Thanks, Mary!

  3. What a fantastic idea! As soon as I have a better working draft, I will use this. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Nathan Lyon says:

    I love this idea. I just finished the first draft of a MG book about a month ago and haven’t touched it since. Despite your advice to let it sit for three months (three?!?!), I’m starting to feel the itch to edit and revise. My plan is to read it all the way through like any other book… and this checkmark idea will help with that!

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