Three great books on self-editing


(A.K.A. more writing-book porn!)

Since I started serious writing practice and got down to the business of trying to turn my idea into a publishable work, self-editing has been an obsession of mine.  I started out with a good grounding (2 degrees in English), but soon learned that there is always room for improvement.  Always and forever.

When the publishing boom of the 80s and early 90s changed directions, agents and editors state one principle requirement: write a damn good book, and write it well.

Here are, in no particular order, three books that have helped me immensely.  Just ask my Author Salon critique group, I am the queen of nitery-pickery (I’m not sure why I choose to write it like that, but I suspect it might have to do with the character of Rockery Hud-Peck from The Fintstonesthat’s just how my brain rolls).

1. Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for transforming your first draft into a finished novel by James Scott Bell (The Write Great Fictions Series, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2008).

Bell divides his book between self-editing and revision, which he states are two separate processes.  They are 🙂

In his introduction, he references Browne and King’s Self-editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print, another of my selections (see below), as well as a slew of writing gurus ranging from Brenda Ueland to Natalie Goldberg and Ray Bradbury.

Bell begins each section by presenting his philosophy of the task, then proceeds through self-editing with various chapters on each aspect of the work (character, plot, POV, etc.), asking probing questions along the way to get the writer deeper into their novel, and offering exercises to assist with the understanding of the element at hand as well as its relevance in self-editing.

When he gets to revision, it’s more about process than elements and analysis, but Bell is equally insightful in his discussion.

Bell is a skilled author and editor.  He writes from his experience in self-editing.  This perspective is what sets my first pick apart from the others.

2. The artful edit: On the practice of editing yourself by Susan Bell (Norton, New York, 2007).

Susan Bell is a veteran editor and author, but her authority and perspective derive from the former role.

She breaks the self-editing task into Macro and Micro phases, again, providing examples, checklists, and exercises to deepen understanding. Then Bell offers what she calls her Master Class, provided in the form of experts in different creative fields (photographer, film, etc.) and what each can teach writers about how to make their story come alive.

Finally, she provides an overview of the evolution of editing, fascinating in itself.

Bell applies investigative zeal to her book, and it offers unique insight into the world or authors and editors, their relationships, where one begins and the other ends, and what the writer can do to become both.

3. Self-editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print by Renni Browne and Dave King (Second Edition, William Morrow, New York, 2004).

First published in 1994 by HarperCollins, Self-editing for Fiction Writers is seen by many as one of the definitive works on the subject.

As with the James Scott Bell’s book, Browne and King’s breaks the task of self editing into its elements (characterization, dialogue, voice, etc.) devoting a chapter to each with examples and exercises.

One thing that I appreciate is the first chapter: Show and Tell (emphasis mine).  The point is made, and I fully agree, that while the writer should endeavour to show, that there are some places in your novel where telling is not only appropriate, but necessary.  It is the skilled writer who knows the difference and knows what technique should go where.

I also enjoyed the collaborative tone of the book.  When the authority is identified by “we” and not “I,” something rhetorical and clever happens: readers begin to feel that they are a part of the illustrious editorial team that wrote this book.

It’s an inclusive way of writing that empowers reading-writers to believe in their ability to self-edit.  The doors of the country club have opened, my friends, and we have all been invited in for drinks 🙂

The Wordsmith Studio Goodreads group is currently reading this book and it’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to get reacquainted with some old friends.

I recommend all three books highly (not to show favouritism or anything).

Do you have any books on self-editing that you would recommend?  Share their titles and maybe a few choice words of review in the comments so everyone can benefit from your experience 🙂

Writerly Goodness is calling it a night.

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10 thoughts on “Three great books on self-editing

  1. Thanks for introducing some great selfediting bks. I am a little partial because I am reading the Browne & King book for the Wordsmith studio Goodreads group. I find it interesting that some writers don’t do any editing other than grammar & spellcheck. They believe that editing is what you pay an editor for. If you did your own proper editing youself, as described in these bks, then you will not have to pay your editor as much. Also, by reading these bks, & putting into practice the techniques discussed, these books will help you become a better writer!

    Melanie, I hope you will put the link for this great post on self-editing books in our GR group.

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    • Actually, that’s my plan. I had it in mind as one of my means of contributing to the GR group 🙂 I said I would in the poll.
      And yes, not only these books, but many of my other favourites recommend self-editing, not only because it’s what agents want, but also because it really does improve your creative chops!
      Thanks for commenting, Monique 🙂

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      • I thought you mentioned you would write a blog post, I couldn’t remember! This is great! I will create a folder for Blog posts for this bk. Again, thank you for doing this post. Also, could you add the 2 other books the the Group booklist? That’s another way of participating!

        Monique

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  2. Coming over here from the Goodreads discussion. Thanks! This is very helpful. I think I would like the first for the separate focuses on revision and self-editing and the second for Master Class (I would love to know what a photographer would say that could help). And, of course, I’m currently reading the third for our group. Terrific post!

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