Self-Editing: Will it Ever Get Done?


Meet Abi Wunder. She is the star of the
Abi Wunder mystery trilogy. Book 1, Secret in the Stars,
is available on Amazon. Book 2, Secret in the Mist,
will be available soon. The outline for Book 3,
 Secrets of the Heart, is done.
Writing will begin soon.

By Linda Wilson     @LinWilsonauthor

Since publication of my last two articles about self-editing on  the Writers On the Move blog—please refer to the links at the end of this article—I continue to read and re-read my current work in progress, Secret in the Mist: An Abi Wunder Mystery. As has been said, you want to be absolutely sure that your manuscript is ready before you send it to your beta readers and professional editors, then on to publication. After all the editing work I’ve done on this book, it’s still not ready. How do I know? My re-thinking is still going on. 

During one of the passes I made through the manuscript, I found a surprising edit I hadn’t yet caught. In some cases, I wrote in generalities rather than being more specific. I’d been aware of this “rule” for as long as I’ve been writing; have heard it stated by many editors and fellow writers. 

Advice from “The Discovering Ideas Handbook”, written by John Tagg, 2003, from Palomar College, San Marcos, California, states this rule clearly:

Use Concrete, Specific Language 

Whenever possible, use concrete, specific language. The best way to do this is to write about individuals wherever possible, and concrete things rather than abstract concepts. Write about teachers, students, and schools rather than education and learning. Or say what you want to get across about education or learning by showing us what teachers and students do in schools or what apprentices do in learning plumbing. Specifics are almost always clearer than generalizations--it's easier to tell exactly what you are saying. And the concrete is almost always easier to follow that the abstract. It may not be easier to write specifically and concretely, but it produces writing that is easier to read.  

Use Examples

The easiest, and usually the best, way to keep your writing specific and concrete, as illustrated in the previous paragraph, is to use specific examples whenever possible. An example, of course, is simply a case or instance of something. A specific example is a particular instance. So to give a specific example of technology would be to write about particular people using a particular machine. To give a specific example of any human activity would require that you write about individual people. To give a specific example of teaching history, as in the example above, would be to describe what a particular teacher or students do. An easy rule of thumb to test the specificity of your writing is to ask whether you write about individual people in each paragraph. If you don't, you are generalizing too much. Give examples of every point you make, in most if not all of your paragraphs, and make your examples clear and forceful by making them specific. Write about people and what people actually do, not just about ideas or concepts.

Specific Language in Fiction

So, imagine my surprise when I found these glitches in my book and strove to improve them:

Original sentence: 

The marsh went back to normal, and the marsh sounds—insect buzzes and clicks and frog croaks—started up again.

Edited version:

“The marsh has a life of its own. Can you tell?” Jess said.

Cattails and tall grasses shot out of the water. Leafy green plants grew wild around the edge. Dragonflies skimmed the surface. Cicadas and crickets buzzed and clicked, and every now and then a bull frog croaked.

Original:

Jess tried the door. Locked. “Let’s look around. Maybe she [the ghost] went outside."

They shined their lights around the front of the building, but found nothing.

They headed out back, past the barn. The moon shone bright over the open field, but there was no ghost in sight.

Edited:

Jess moved to the door and jiggled the doorknob. “Of course. The door is locked.” 

“Hurry. Let's look around back.” Abi got to her feet. “She couldn’t have gone far.” 

They raced along the path, overgrown with weeds and grass, shining their lights at the bushes and trees, past the barn. Knee-high weeds scraped against Abi’s legs, leaving scratches that stung, but she kept going. The path gave way to an open field about the size of a football field, surrounded by a split-rail fence that had seen better days. 

Quickly, Abi scanned the field, lit by the moon, full and high in the sky by now, forgetting all about her stinging legs. But the field was empty. There was no ghost. 

What Will You Find in Your Search?

These are a few examples of how I’ve added texture, immediacy, and a picture for my readers’ minds, in place of generalities.

A search for specifics in place of generalities I think deserves a pass through your manuscript. As you can see, I’m happy I discovered these what I consider lackluster passages and worked to improve them before it was too late.

For more self-editing tips, please visit:

https://www.writersonthemove.com/2024/01/keep-your-self-editing-on-track.html

https://www.writersonthemove.com/2022/09/one-last-edit-re-think-before-submitting.html

Source: https://www.palomar.edu/users/jtagg/handbook/specific.htm 

One day soon, Secret in the Mist,
An Abi Wunder Mystery

will be published!
Linda Wilson is the author of the Abi Wunder Mystery series and other books for children. Her two new releases are Waddles the Duck: Hey, Wait for Me! (2022) and Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere (2023). You’ll find Linda on her Amazon author page, on her website at LindaWilsonAuthor.com, and on Facebook.





6 comments:

Terry Whalin said...

Linda,

Thanks for another great article. The before and after examples are enlightening and interesting for every author. Self-editing is a skill every writer needs to develop and keep growing in their improvement.

Terry
author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition) [Follow the Link for a FREE copy]

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, thanks for this excellent advice on self-editing by adding texture, immediacy, and details in place of generalities. And great examples!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Linda, your experience with self-editing is invaluable. And even those who aren’t self-editing their own book will find it useful for editing all the other important documents that go with publishing (including promoting!) a new book!
As long as you are still in the editing process, I think you already have a copy of my The Frugal Editor so please check before you click on that publish button. There is so much in it that isn’t commonly thought of as “editing.” Chapters about front matter and back matter are just a couple examples. They happen to be especially useful for authors of children’s books. In fact, I know you already have some of the features I mention in yours, but there may be a new idea or two in it for you. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1615996001.
Best,
Your Fellow Contributor
Carolyn

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you Terry, Karen and Carolyn. I was amazed at how general I had been on this latest pass of my manuscript. All it took was to give each generality some thought, picturing myself in the scene, to make the scenes come alive. Carolyn, I do have a copy of The Frugal Editor. I will look again before I send this book for review, thanks.

Nina said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and process Linda.

I struggle not to edit while writing a first draft, so tempting to keep going over and over the same text, finding ways to improve each line. LOL.
I am dyslexic so I depend a lot on various tools like Grammarly, Pro Writing Aid, and AutoCrit to polish my manuscripts. It is always interesting to hear what others do.

Nina Pak

Linda Wilson said...

Nina, I do the same thing! I've been over and over this manuscript so many times! This edit I'm REALLY going to accept what's written so I can move on!!!

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