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MBM: How to Self-Edit Your Work by J.J. Lyon

Welcome to the second day of MARCH BOOK MADNESS! (Full explanation and schedule here.)

Side Note: One of our guest posters, Ranee S. Clark, is hosting March Cover Madness this month. My cover for LIFE (Citizens of Logan Pond bk 1) is up. Make sure to check in each day for the Cover Madness brackets

Today our first guest author is my friend J.J. Lyon (JoLynne). JoLynne has been around since the very beginning of March Book Madness, so this makes her fifth post with us. How cool is that? I’m glad she gets to start us off this month. (Check out her previous posts below her bio.) So here she is:

Self-editing by JJ Lyon

J.J. Lyon:

1. Find your own “editing cave,” a physical and mental space less likely to be disturbed by neighbors, well-meaning friends and a dog that wants to go outside every 20 minutes. (Good luck with that one!)

2. Don’t start the editing process too soon. Get your words out first, edit them later.

3. If you’ve been trained in short form writing, you will go crazy trying to adhere to step #2, which will seem like ignoring your mistakes so you can make more of them, faster. If this is you, don’t despair. Just strive for a good flow and find a system that works for you.

The editing cave is a figurative place, valued for its isolation.

4. Whatever you do, don’t start your writing or editing session at the beginning every time. Trust me, you will be sick enough of that opening chapter as it is.

5. Join a writer’s group, and get comfortable enough with its members to share scenes that you know need work.

6. Listen to your colleagues with a humble heart.

7. Know when to refuse advice. Ultimately it’s your characters and your plot.

8. When draft 1 is done, do a rough edit.

9. Share your manuscript with colleagues. Ask them to read for content. Acknowledge that it’s way too early to start in on spelling, grammar and punctuation.

10. Alternatively, you could engage a content editor at this point. If you hire an editor, your writing friends are still an important resource. They can help you figure out who is the best investment for your price range.

11. Wait a heckuva lot longer than you’d like for feedback. Remember, your friends have lives. Editors often have waiting lists.

12. Read the suggestions from your content edit.

13. Curl up in a small ball under your desk.

14. Stay there until you feel better, or at least until you become too uncomfortable to remain in that position.

15. Take a walk.

16. Pour yourself a Diet Coke.

17. Start your content edit.

18. Repeat steps #5 and #6.

19. Take out a scene.

20. Decide you need that scene after all, but with serious modifications.

21. Search for the scene in your file of deleted scenes.

22. Decide you’d be faster just writing it again from scratch.

23. Pour yourself a Dr. Pepper.

24. Start writing.

25. Research the finer points of your scene.

26. Conclude that it’s really not possible for your hero to out-shoot twenty semi-automatic-rifle-toting bad guys with a handgun. Delete the scene again.

27. Re-write the scene with much more hiding, dodging and un-heroic behavior.

28. Take a break and check your social media platforms.

29. Realize you have wasted 42.7 hours on personality quizzes.

30. On the bright side, said quizzes have concluded you are a creative genius, based on what foods and movies you like.

31. Buckle down and edit.

32. Research the heck out of your plot.

33. Fix the parts that were not realistic.

34. Take out the paragraphs that show off all the research you did–but that do nothing to advance the plot.

35. Reach the end of your book again.

Editing Your Manuscript

The Panic Phase

36. Decide how many additional editing passes you will do. Acknowledge that successful writers often do separate edits for character—and even edits for individual characters—before moving on.

37. Do yet another editing pass from beginning to end, this time checking for spelling, grammar and punctuation.

38. Enter the panic phase. Obsess over word choice about 25 times per page.

39. Slip deeper into the panic phase. Move commas around in ways that improve absolutely nothing.

40. If you self-publish, the panic phase is your cue to engage a professional editor. If you don’t self-publish, now is still a good time to consider engaging a professional editor. This is a personal decision that should be influenced less by your insecurity and more by your honesty with yourself. How reliable are your technical skills?

41. But please, please don’t self-publish without engaging at least one editor.

42. Receive your manuscript back from the editor, noting all the corrections to what you thought was perfect.

43. Resist the urge to curl up in a small ball under your desk.

44. Go through the corrections one by one. Avoid the urge to just keep hitting “accept” on every change. It’s possible your editor isn’t perfect, either.

45. Ask friends to read your manuscript—preferably people who like to read but who have not yet seen this project before.

46. Receive their feedback. Make any corrections needed.

47. Congratulate yourself. You’ve gone through a 240,000-step process in just 47 steps, give or take about 239,953.

If this advice seems incomplete, you could read from the experts. There are many, many books on writing and self-editing, some genre-specific. Again, draw from your writing friends’ recommendations—not all advice is good advice.

A good place to start: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition, by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Writer’s conferences are also a great resource that can connect you with people who are farther along their writer’s journey than you are. Go. Fight your introverted tendencies, ask questions, and take good notes on the answers.

Good luck!

Rebecca’s thoughts:

Haha, I love these. I’ve gone through these steps so many times. Words are hard. Really hard. There are a million ways to tell a story, and I believe that the best stories are told in the editing phase, not the writing phase. In fact, my favorite writing quote is: “Great books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.”

Thanks JoLynne for these fun “easy” tips. It’s tempting to skip some, but each one has its place, including curling up under the desk. 😉

What do you think? What editing steps help you most? Comment here.


J.J. Lyon is a former journalist and public relations professional who has self-edited countless short works. She self-published the novel Truth is Relative: a Truth Inducer Mystery, following input from her friends, many self-editing passes and the invaluable input of a professional editor. Lyon writes and edits in a home office, surrounded by a longsuffering family, some needy cats, and a needier dog. 

She still doesn’t know whether she likes the Oxford comma.




Make sure to check back tomorrow when Whitney-award finalist A.L. Sowards tells us what’s in a name

See you tomorrow!

PS) If you’re in the Indianapolis area, I’m part of a massive book signing this Saturday, March 5th, at the Irvington Public Library. Details here



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