Yesterday, I took a break from writing The Door to edit some short stories I wrote over the summer. Shelving complete works and coming back to edit them after they've been sitting for months has always been part of my editing process. But as I was getting ready to go through the process again yesterday, I realized it's a technique that's often times overlooked on self-editing checklists.
One of the most challenging aspects of editing your own work is that it's your baby. You labored over it for countless hours and consumed three vats of coffee and gin in order to bring it into the world.
It's difficult to take a step back and read it with fresh eyes.
As writers, we're so close to our work that many times we see what we want to see, not what's actually there. The result, is that mistakes continually slip through, no matter how many times we read it over.
Shelving your work for a while can help tremendously with finding errors.
When your baby is finally complete, shelve it. Don't touch it, look at it, or think about it for a LONG time. Months, if possible. Write or edit something else, and do everything you can to forget your new darling is waiting for you. Give your brain a much needed break away from the story, world, and characters.
After you feel like you've had enough time away from your work, take it out, dust it off, and begin editing. Yes, things will come back to you, and there will still be things you'll miss. You're human, after all. But you'll be looking at your manuscript with fresher eyes than if you'd dove into the editing right after you finished writing.
I follow this technique at least once or twice during the life of a manuscript, and it makes quite a difference. Because I've been away from the manuscript for so long, I'm forced to read it slower, and I'm able to pick out smaller, less obvious errors that might have otherwise slipped through.
I hadn't touched the short stories I edited yesterday since the summer, and I have to admit that for a couple of them, I couldn't remember how I resolved the conflict. It truly was like reading them for the first time, and on top of being fun, I found a LOT of mistakes and areas that needed more development.
Whether you're planning on solely self-editing or editing it yourself before sending your manuscript off to a professional editor, I urge you to give this method a try. Play around with the length of time you shelve-it and forget-it, and see what works best for you.
Have you tried this technique before? What has been your experience? Has it helped with your editing? Share in the comments!