Is self-critiquing your own novel a good idea or bad? In my opinion...it's a bit of both.
After you've spent countless hours laboring over your manuscript, editing, slicing and dicing with a vengeance, you will eventually come to a point where you can happily say "I'm done." But are you really?
Just because you think your novel is a New York Times best seller, others may not. It's hard to separate pride in your work from honest criticism. We want every person we meet on the streets to fall in love with our book, to adore our characters just as much as we do.
But what happens when your opinion doesn't match up with your reviewers? Taking other's critiques and incorporating them into your manuscript is a lot harder than it sounds. You have to stuff your pride and consider every suggestion as a way to improve your writing career.
It's painful. It's terrifying. And it can be deeply frustrating. But without that little bit of suffering you can't grow as a writer.
Some tips to help you while you are self-editing.
1. Never listen to praise. Oh that is terribly difficult. You write to make people happy and you want to celebrate their enjoyment...but it can also be destructive. Don't allow yourself to wallow in praise. You will grow lazy, self-absorbed and risk losing sight of why you became a writer in the first place.
No novel is perfect. There is always something that needs adjusting, editing, slicing, or simply told in a different way. If you ever become convinced that your novel is perfect then you've lost sight of your calling.
Negative reviews are the lifeline of an author. Don't shy away from them. Learn from them. Ask questions. Stretch yourself beyond the limits your mind has set. Experiment with new concepts. You can't please everyone, so don't try. But you want to write the best novel that you possibly can...for your reader and yourself. Be proud of your accomplishments but don't stop there.
2. Once you've done you're editing, read everything through out loud. It is far easier to hear the hiccups in your novel than it is to see them on paper.
As writers there are times when we fail to write what is in our minds. We take things for granted, foolishly assuming that our readers have a magic mirror into our minds. Reading out loud forces you to hear the story, focus on what's been written and gives you insight into where you've novel might fall short.
We all have favorite books and authors that we admire for their writing styles. Mine is Sophie Jordan, author of the Firelight series and several historical romance novels. Her books are so beautiful descriptive without out being wordy. I made it my mission to read every book and take notes.
So pick and author and read a section of their book. Listen to the rhythm of their words and consider how you can adapt your own writing to a style similar to theirs. You don't want to copy them word for word...but you can learn from their years of experience.
3. Finished your novel? Now hide it! No, I'm not joking. Put it aside for a while. The more time that passes between readings the more logical you can be when you do a read through.
This isn't always an easy thing to do. Especially when you're a self-published author. You want to polish it off, shine it up and get it out there for the whole world to see. And of course sit back while the money starts rolling in. But I can tell you from personal experience that's not always the best thing to do.
It's been about 5 months since I last read my debut novel, Defiance Rising. This is a story that I worked on for over two years. I adore the characters, love the plot and am excited to finish the rough draft for the sequel, Relinquish. But here's the problem...I know I can write it better now!
Does that make my book any less published? Nope. Have I sold copies of it since I released it? Yes. Was it the best I could do at the time I released it? You bet. But now I've grown. I've expanded and improved my skills.
There isn't a day goes by that I don't battle with myself about changing that book. Not the essence of it. Just the technical stuff. Since it's my first book I've got a HUGE soft spot for it, and I want it to succeed.
So do I take time out from new projects to "update" Defiance Rising, or do I push forward and chock that one up as a good learning experience. I'm torn.
But it's a perfect example of why waiting is a good thing. Every day you learn something new. All of those things help you to change your writing style, to tighten in areas that are lax, become less wordy or simply understand character dialogue just a little more.
If you've written a novel...let it rest. Even if it's only for a couple weeks or a month. Trust me...it's worth the time investment!
4. Cut and Paste. The best tools for a writer is your computer program. I use Word 2003. It's what I know. Others use Scrivner, Word 2007/2010, Open Office or many others. All are great. My suggestion is to work with what you know.
When you're editing, and trust me this is harder than writing the actual book, you need to be brutal. Cut your word count as low as possible. There are always areas that you overemphasized, have over written or you flat out described it to death. Give only enough info for your reader to imagine the scene and then let them run away with it.
Sometimes you write something that makes those tiny hairs on the back of your neck stand up and you know it's the best you've ever written...but it doesn't fit well. Cut and paste! Don't be afraid to rearrange sentences, paragraphs even whole chapters. Play around until you are happy with it.
These tips are just the basics to get your started. Each of us has our own style of editing. Some need to print out the pages and scribble with a red pen. Others use comment notes on a word doc. And still others simply slice and dice right on the computer page.
The point is...be honest with yourself and be willing to change.