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12 Powerful Tips for Mastering Self-Editing and Feedback in Writing

Self-Editing and Feedback

Self-Editing and Feedback - Best Practices for Self-Editing and Seeking Constructive Feedback

Self-editing and feedback are crucial steps in the writing process that can transform a rough draft into a polished piece of work. While writing is often seen as a solitary endeavor, the process of refining your work benefits greatly from both self-editing and seeking constructive feedback. In this post, we’ll explore the best practices for self-editing and how to effectively seek and utilize feedback from others.

Contents

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Self-Editing – First Steps to a Polished Draft

1. Take a Break

Take a Break(LinkedIn)
After finishing your draft, take a break before you start editing. This helps you return to your work with fresh eyes and a more objective perspective.

Whenever I complete a story, I take about three to five days’ break to start editing. (depends how long it is). I learned this in one of my creative writing courses at John Jay College because the brain needs to refresh itself before returning to a project. You’ll read the story in a newer perspective and find a lot of mistakes in the first paragraph. However, it is important to not to rewrite the first paragraph over and over again until you believe it is perfect. There must be steps taken to properly edit or begin a second draft of the story.

The break really helps me as I get to recollect my thoughts, have a brief discussion with myself about the message I’m trying to put out there. Also, there might be other ideas that I might want to add, but I write them down on a separate notepad for safekeeping. It’s something I’ll go back to when I reread my first draft.

When I wrote Deadly Sins, I took a week off after completing all the stories before going back for the rewrite.

2. Read Aloud

Read Aloud(The Writing Center)
Reading your work aloud helps you catch awkward phrasings, run-on sentences, and other issues that might not be as obvious when reading silently.

Despite the many years I have written, it wasn’t until I wrote Onryo when I was advised to reread my story aloud. When I first submitted my draft to my professor to go over it, she stated that there are many awkward sentences that I might not have caught unless I read it aloud. After this advice, I took back my story and experimented with reading my story aloud.

This was a game changer for me.

It felt like a bumpy road reading through the story, catching all the mistakes that at some point, I had to stop for a quick break. I knew I had some work to do and was preparing myself for it. I would go through the entire story without touching anything yet and then, when going back, I know exactly what to look for when editing. I’ll take notes if it’s very important, but on the side and not on the manuscript.

The story for Onryo has changed significantly and is now read to be much smoother. Though, I’m sure, no story is ever perfect and there might be a few hiccups here and there, but one can do so much when it comes to editing. At this point, I am now dependent on other readers who might catch these few mistakes and report it back to me so I can do a quick edit.

3. Focus on Structure First

Focus on Structure First(Squibler)
Begin by reviewing the overall structure of your piece. Ensure that your introduction sets the stage, your arguments or story points are logically organized, and your conclusion effectively wraps up your work.

Sometimes, not always, when I reread for structural issues, I’ll change the order of the inciting incident and the introduction. It depends on the flow of the story, what would work well with readers. My approach is having a concept first, what are the acts and plot points and which order I plan to present them.

I have a beginning, a middle, and an end. With each act, I’ll have a summary of what is supposed to occur and a word count target. If my story is 4000 words, then my first act will have 1000 words, the second act will have 2000 words, and the third act will have 1000 words. I make sure that the middle have the most words and then I’ll have to break those apart and see what is supposed to occur within these words.

It might sound like a chore, but it is well worth it as it’ll make your story more organized and easily digestible for readers. But remember, this is not your first draft. Have a concept and write the entire first draft straight through without worrying about structure. Your first draft will always, always, always be bad. Just like building a house, you have your structural frames built up first before applying the bricks and sheetrock.

Consider your first draft as the frames of the house and then, when going back to rewrite, you’ll add the other layers.

4. Check for Clarity and Conciseness

Check for Clarity and Conciseness(Purdue University)
Make sure each sentence is clear and to the point. Remove unnecessary words and avoid redundancy. Every word should serve a purpose.

Writing the first draft will inevitably have repetitive words and redundancy. Unless it’s dialogue, your descriptions shouldn’t be or sound repetitive. Learning from my experiences writing screenplays, I learned from professionals and other scripts that the description and dialogue do not repeat each other. This was my mistakes when first starting to write. I realized that I reuse words like “disappointed” when discussing the letdown of a character rather than showing how the character is disappointed.

Then, when writing my short stories, I reused certain phrases and words that might throw the reader off and ruin the magic of the story. After completing my first draft, I’ll hit Ctrl + F and then type in a word that I saw was repetitive and it’ll pinpoint all the words.

Fair warning, though, don’t replace the word with a synonym. Most of the time it won’t make the sentence make sense. Synonyms are just similar words with similar meaning, but not always the exact. My suggestion is to see if you can SHOW more and replace the word with an action.

Here’s an example:

Before: “She was filled with anger as she walked into the room.”

After: “She stormed into the room.”

In this example, “was filled with anger” is a wordy way of describing the character’s emotion. By replacing it with the action “stormed,” we convey the same emotion more vividly and concisely. This change not only tightens the sentence but also gives the reader a clearer image of the character’s emotional state through her actions.

5. Pay Attention to Style and Tone

Pay Attention to Style and Tone(Elite Authors)
Ensure your writing style and tone are consistent throughout the piece. This includes maintaining a uniform voice and appropriate language for your target audience.

When writing the story for Gluttony – Year of the Pig, a story in Deadly Sins, the story started in a lighthearted tone about a young boy suffering from an eating disorder. It took a whole wild turn as the story progressed. It transitioned from this story about a mental health struggle to an unrealistic extreme horror that I did not intend to write.

I don’t know why I wrote it in a way that disrespected the character in such a way, but I scrapped the entire story and later created the story it is today. When writing the stories for Deadly Sins, I had to make sure that each of the seven stories maintained the level of respect for the mental issues the characters were facing. Also, for each story, the tone had to remain the same. One story cannot be different than the other in terms of genre.

When first writing out the concept of the stories, I didn’t realize how vastly different the tone was for each. Gluttony was an extreme horror, Lust was fetishizing abuse, and Envy glamorized stalking. While stories like Sloth, Pride, Greed, and Wrath were linear dramatic stories. It would throw readers off, so the stories needed a full rewrite.

I had to push the publication of Deadly Sins one year ahead to rewrite and do proper research. Thankfully, the stories are now in the right tone.

6. Be Critical of Your Grammar and Punctuation

Be Critical of Your Grammar and Punctuation(The Punctuation Guide)
Look out for common grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes. Tools like ProWritingAid can help, but trust your knowledge and instincts as well.

Going through the first draft of my stories, all of them, and even articles I write here, there are lots of punctuation issues and phrases that don’t make sense. It is often hard to spot them without having prior knowledge of the basics of punctuation.

Here is a list of punctuations with their definitions and examples:

Period (.)
Definition: A period marks the end of a declarative sentence or statement. Example: “She enjoys reading books.”

Comma (,)
Definition: A comma indicates a pause between parts of a sentence or separates items in a list. Example: “I bought apples, oranges, and bananas.”

Question Mark (?)
Definition: A question mark is used at the end of a sentence to indicate a direct question. Example: “Are you coming to the party?”

Exclamation Point (!)
Definition: An exclamation point expresses strong emotion or emphasis. Example: “Watch out!”

Colon (:)
Definition: A colon introduces a list, quote, explanation, or an example. Example: “She needed to buy several items: bread, milk, and eggs.”

Semicolon (;)
Definition: A semicolon connects closely related independent clauses or separates items in a complex list. Example: “She loves reading; her favorite genre is fantasy.”

Dash (—)
Definition: A dash indicates a break in thought or adds emphasis or additional information. Example: “I need to find my keys—if I don’t, I’ll be late.”

Hyphen (-)
Definition: A hyphen connects two or more words to form a compound term or divides a word at the end of a line. Example: “This is a well-written article.”

Parentheses (())
Definition: Parentheses enclose additional information or an afterthought. Example: “He finally answered (after taking five minutes to think) that he didn’t know the answer.”

Quotation Marks (” “)
Definition: Quotation marks enclose direct speech or a quotation. Example: “She said, ‘I will be there soon.”

Apostrophe (’)
Definition: An apostrophe shows possession or marks the omission of letters. Example: “It’s John’s book.”

Ellipsis (…)
Definition: An ellipsis indicates the omission of words, a pause, or an unfinished thought. Example: “Well, I’m not sure… maybe we should reconsider.”

Brackets ([ ])
Definition: Brackets enclose explanatory or missing information added by someone other than the original author. Example: “She [the manager] will address the issue.”

Slash (/)
Definition: A slash indicates alternatives or a line break in poetry. Example: “You can bring your friend and/or your sibling.”

Using these punctuation marks correctly helps clarify your writing and ensures that your meaning is easily understood by the reader. By understanding the usage of these punctuation marks, you’ll have no issue in spotting its misuse in your writing.

To make things easier, I am an affiliate of ProWritingAid and would like to offer you 20% off on your subscription should you decide you want extra assistance.

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Seeking Constructive Feedback – How to Get the Best Input

1. Choose the Right Reviewers

Choose the Right Reviewers(Reedsy)
Select people who understand your genre and audience. Fellow writers, members of writing groups, or knowledgeable friends can provide valuable insights.

My first time experiencing my stories professionally reviewed was when I wrote a screenplay at 18 years old. Let me tell you, it was a wake-up call. My ego was wiped clean after receiving one of the harshest yet thoughtful review that made me rethink my choices as a writer. She’s a script consultant for over 40 years of experience. Her advice provided so much value.

I found her on screenwriting book called The Script’s Bible and her contact information was in the back as people who you can call and pay for script consultation. The lessons I learned and the experiences I endured in the future were thanks to her, as she did not sugarcoat anything. I went back to school and got my degrees and learned to communicate better in order to write better.

2. Be Specific About What You Need

Be Specific About What You Need(Proofed)
When asking for feedback, be clear about what areas you want your reviewers to focus on. This could be anything from plot development and character consistency to grammar and style.

Whenever I went for specifics, I was met with better feedback. When writing throughout the years, I had issues with dialogue. I had lots of on-the-nose and unrealistic and melodramatic dialogue. I never knew how to properly write dialogue. When provided the feedback, I was told not only to read screenplays and drama plays, but to go out and actually have conversations with people.

It is always good to network and learn from others. Everyone speaks very differently. That was one of my biggest problems as a writer. No one had their own voice. It was robotic and too professional, even when some of the characters are not articulated.

3. Provide Context

Provide Context(Writer’s Digest)
Give your reviewers some context about your work. Share your main goals, the audience you’re writing for, and any particular challenges you’ve faced.

Depending on the story I’m writing, I’ll state the proper context for the reviewers. When I wrote the TV pilot for Deadly Sins before I thought about writing the book, I stated that my target audience would be for people who like psychological dramas. I also provided them with what my story is about, as if I provided an elevator pitch to them.

For example, Deadly Sins is an anthology series that correlates the seven deadly sins with mental illnesses. Each sin is NOT the illness rather, it is what caused the illness.

When I provided this brief context, the reviewer got an idea. I never give any reviewer a story or script without context. I don’t want to surprise them with whatever best they know.

4. Be Open to Criticism

Be Open to Criticism(MasterClass)
Remember that constructive feedback is meant to help you improve. Be open to suggestions and avoid becoming defensive. Every piece of feedback is an opportunity to enhance your work.

There is no such thing as a perfect story. Not only that, stories are subjective regardless. What is considered being the greatest story ever told might not work well with some people. Some might just think the story presented is overrated. While having that in mind, I can be open to criticism. However, the reviewer should be respectful towards the writer because they’re showcasing something dear to them.

I had a handful of both harsh and respectful criticism. My first review I mentioned in Choose the Right Reviewer was both harsh and respectful. In fact, that’s what got me to respect her so much. She has so much experience in the game that it’s not meant to be taken personally. However, I did receive from a reviewer years later over a script I wrote who did not at all get the concept and themes correct. It seemed like the reviewer didn’t even bother reading the entire script in its entirety.

Don’t get me wrong, it is rare to get a very harsh critic for the sake of being harsh. Those are the ones you ignore. Remember, they’re humans too and might not know better. That’s why I recommend to get multiple reviews at the same time and compare what was commonly criticized.

5. Ask Questions

Ask Questions(ProWritingAid; The Creative Penn)
If something isn’t clear or you need more detailed feedback, don’t hesitate to ask your reviewers questions. Understanding their perspective can provide deeper insights.

This is a must. Consider getting a review back as part of a conversation. You are paying a certain amount of dollars to not just get feedback, but also to have brief discussions on your feedback if there is something you cannot understand. Make sure that the reviewer allows follow-up questions with their feedback just in case there is something in a review that doesn’t make sense to you.

One of my experiences was getting a review for a screenplay I wrote called The Angel of Pain. (I may publish this script in the future discussing its themes.) I had two separate reviews. One provided insightful feedback while the other was giving me mental gymnastics.

Clearly both are experienced with providing feedback but the one who provided a wordy nonsensical feedback made me question the integrity of reviewers as a whole. There were a bunch of runarounds with certain phrases I didn’t understand. It was as if the reviewer was writing a PhD research paper on the concept of nothingness. I reported back and asked a ton of questions and was still giving me the same type of answers, which made things more confusing.

So I let it go and did proceed to take it further than it should. I just won’t be using them again.

6. Know When to Take and Leave Feedback

Know When to Take and Leave Feedback(Writers & Artists)
Not all feedback will be useful. Learn to discern which suggestions align with your vision for the piece and which do not. Ultimately, you are the author, and the final decision rests with you.

Based on what I’ve stated on Ask Questions and Be Open to Criticisms, I learned to choose feedback based on my visions, regardless. Whenever I see a common issue with my stories from multiple reviewers, that’s when I know I should work on it. Sometimes the feedback may sound ridiculous, but remember that it’s your story.

However, there may be an issue with payment. We are using our hard earned money to get honest feedback that the reviewers have read. At this point, do we ask for our money back since the feedback that was provided was useless? How do we go about that?

There was only one occasion I asked for money back after providing proof that the reviewer was incompetent with reading the story. Instead, my story was sent to another reviewer free of charge. The feedback was significantly different, but again, I didn’t like how sending out a story I worked hard on getting bashed to bits without any sort of respect. It wasn’t even read.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, either. Take each review with a grain of salt. They may be seeing something that you don’t. That doesn’t mean your story is bad, it just needs work. This is why we review our stories often.

Recommended Books on Editing and Proofreading

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King: This book offers practical advice and techniques for self-editing fiction, covering crucial topics like dialogue, exposition, and point of view. It’s an invaluable resource for writers looking to improve their manuscripts before submitting them for publication.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White: A timeless guide to writing with clarity and precision, focusing on essential elements such as grammar, style, and punctuation. This book is a must-have for any writer seeking to enhance their writing’s effectiveness and readability.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser: This classic book emphasizes the importance of clarity, simplicity, and style in nonfiction writing. It offers practical tips for editing and refining your work, making it a valuable resource for writers of all levels.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott: Anne Lamott shares her insights on the writing process, including the importance of revising and receiving feedback. This book provides both practical advice and inspiration, making it a beloved guide for many writers.

Final Thoughts

Editing and proofreading skills are a must for great writing. Take a break, read it aloud, work on the structure, and use editing tools wisely to make your work way better. Also, make sure you pay attention to grammar, punctuation, and keep a consistent style and tone to make your writing better for your audience.

Getting helpful feedback is just as crucial. Choosing the right reviewers, being specific about your needs, providing context, and being open to criticism can transform your writing from good to great. When you ask questions, find patterns in feedback, and decide when to listen or ignore suggestions, you’re in charge of your work and get helpful insights.

Together, these strategies will help you create professional pieces that truly shine. Editing is about more than just correcting mistakes. It’s about making your writing stand out.

Happy writing!