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Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Writing does not come naturally. It takes work. It takes experience. And it takes humility. To truly grow as a writer, one needs to humble themselves and say, "I don't know everything I need to know, help me."

I didn't go to college for writing. At the time, I chose not to do so because I feared losing my love of writing when I was forced to do it for classes. I wondered if I chose an occupation of writing, would I love it still?

Now, looking back, I can see that there were other fears present in my decision: the fear of not making it. The fear of not having enough money to support myself.

When I decided not to take courses on writing, I pridefully told myself I didn't need them. I could do it on my own. But writing involves a lot more than just typing away day after day.

If you aspire to be an author and have never picked up a book on writing, taken a course, or looked at the resources available to you online...STOP! Drop what you are doing right now and go find a good book to teach you some of those vital lessons. Find an online resource that you trust and can rely on for inspiration, advice, and correction. Do something, I wish I did earlier in my journey.

Since making that decision not to take courses, however, I have begun to change my mindset. I may take courses in the future (though not before I take a break from school!) but for now, I stick with my writing aid books.

One of those has been Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

This book is actually a better-known book than some of the others I've reviewed (cough, cough, Description. cough cough, Noble's Book of Blunders). The book actually shows up on lists of "best writing aid books" (alongside books like Bird by Bird and Wonderbook). Goodreads or Thriftbooks suggested it to me, I think, and after some research, I was convinced. I bought a used copy for myself (and didn't read it until months later).

If there is one thing I love about this book it is the authors.

Many of the authors of writing-aid books are fiction authors themselves (or claim to be). Most often, they don't have a lot of well-known books published. None of their fiction books are ones I would read (either they are self-published or look like they could have been). That doesn't mean their writing aids should always be discarded. Monica Wood has great advice in her book Description as well as stunning examples. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi don't have any other books published as far as I can tell but their Thesaurus series is an amazing resource for writers. And don't get me started on the usefulness of Kathy Steinemann's Writer's Lexicons.

However, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is written not by fiction authors but by two editors of fiction books. They are the perfect people to write the book because they are the people you are doing the "self-editing" for. Browne and King know editing inside out because it is their job so they are the people to explain how you, as an author, can edit your own work.

I don't know about the illustrator. The illustrations were a little weird to me. They seemed like approximations of political cartoons with writing as the subject but all they really did was restate a quote with a picture of a man and his wife. It reminded me of illustrations in Nancy Drew novels showing her actions every 5+ chapters with a quote at the bottom.

The book did teach me a few things as well as confirm edits I was already working on. For example, one chapter discussed how sentences like the following can be a problem if overused:

"As I sat in my chair, I thought about the meaning of life."

"I walked across the room and grabbed my t-shirt, flattening it against my chest to see its size."

The use of "as" and "-ing" words in this way reveals one is a novice writer. Though the occasional sentence like this works (particularly if the two actions are meant to occur at the same time), overuse is a problem. In previous drafts, I often stuck sentences like this after "s/he said" as a beat. I was already pulling back on my use of this sentence construction before reading Self-Editing but found the confirmation helpful nevertheless.

There were other things pointed out in the book which I didn't realize I was doing and had to fix. Many of my beats (small portions of action in between dialogue) were too long or uninteresting. I began to work on these. I also added more dialogue, especially in scenes where it was lacking or where the action beats in between dialogue were too long. The book gave me confidence in my dialogue and I felt it flow through my fingertips onto the screen like it never had before. More than anything else, this book, in conjunction with others, reminded me how important it is to break description up so that new scenes and characters aren't described all in one long paragraph.

This was one of the best books for writing that I have come across so far and I would highly suggest adding it to your collection if you are a writer. No matter how much natural talent you have for writing and how much you have grown over the years through practice and reading, there is certainly something you are still able to learn from the professionals.

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