Self-editing: knowing how to listen to your gut

Self-editing: are you only listening to your gut or are you hearing what it’s saying?

A big part of the writing process is self-editing.

Self-editing means different things to different people. I’m not talking about the little things like missing words and grammar right now, but the bigger issues like plot construction and characterization–the things that can have big holes, but are harder to fix. And harder to know how to fix.

Everyone says listen to your gut. But what I am talking about is the difference between listening to your gut and actually hearing what it’s saying.

Listening to your gut: a passing thought that something might not be working.

Hearing your gut: recognizing specific weaknesses, articulating them to yourself and others, and knowing how to fix them. 

Those residual feelings that your character might need to be stronger, and a bit larger than life or your plot might have some holes. These are things that writers often overlook because they are so close to the work or they push out of their minds because they’ve worked so hard already and don’t want to go looking for things to fix.

Here’s a secret: good self-editors can see superficial errors, but great self-editors also go looking to find holes to patch.

10 self-editing tips that will change your manuscript:
  1. Does the beginning work? Does the ending work? Are they satisfying for the reader?
  2. Does the plot have good pace, does it make sense, and is it a natural outcome for the premise?
  3. Does the setting have meaning for the characters, or is it a metaphor for the conflict in the story?
  4. Do readers care about the outcome of the characters?
  5. Do the characters stick to their traits? Or when they don’t is it because they’re growing?
  6. Does the dialogue reflect each character’s ‘uniqueness’ and distinct voice?
  7. Is the chosen POV the best option for the story you’ve set out to tell?
  8. How many subplots are there? Do they have appropriate attention with what you’ve set out to do in the novel?
  9. Is the writing of high, lasting quality?
  10. Does it have a strong, marketable hook?

Not everyone is good at self-editing. That’s what beta-readers, critique groups, and hiring external editors is for. And that’s why there are books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. Your manuscript is not complete unless you’ve gone through some serious editing. Go looking for holes to patch and make sure you’re only ever putting your best manuscript forward.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

10 thoughts on “Self-editing: knowing how to listen to your gut

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