Monday, September 7, 2009

How to Critique Your Own Manuscript

Self-critiquing is a very valuable skill to develop. Proofreading your manuscript before sending it to another editor has huge benefits in terms of freeing your editor to work on the content of your manuscript rather than having to spend much of the time allocated correcting your errors. But you also need to be able to judge your own story for continuity, clarity, and quality.

However it's also very difficult to think neutrally about something you've written yourself. Many writers fall into one of two groups when re-reading their manuscript: either being too soft on their flaws and thinking everything they've put down on paper is perfect as it is; or being overly critical, sometimes to the point of deleting much of their work in frustration.

Finding a balance is important, because there's little point trying to edit your own work if you're not viewing it from a clear and honest perspective. Thankfully, critical reading, even of your own work, can improve with practice.

It can help to join a critique group and practice on other writers’ manuscripts first. You will learn to develop the tact that you need and also learn how to explain your reactions to a story. This objectivity will flow over into your own work and make it easier to distance yourself.

Also, remember that everyone needs a second opinion. Your self-critique doesn’t have to be perfect, but it can be a useful way of seeing where you need help and determining what questions you need to ask your editor.

In upcoming posts we look at how to approach a critique, and some tips to make it an easier process.

-- Developing a "Critical" Mindset
-- Tackling the Task of Self-Critiquing
-- Brush up on Self-Editing

Elsa Neal Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. In her experience with reading and critiquing manuscripts, she's picked up the most common errors that many writers seem to make. Read her list of the Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make at her website. Stay and browse through her resources for writers or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.

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  1. Thanks for the excellent advice. I am trying to strike the balance in my self-editing. For me, the best approach is to let the MS sit on the shelf for a while. Then when I do read through it quickly, I am less emotionally connected to it and I can see the flaws.

    What does amaze me is that even after my CPs read through it and I read through it, I can still find minor mistakes like apostrophes not in the right place or commas missing... typos.... One author says she does a read aloud for all her manuscripts. I did that for a Golden Heart entry last year and caught a lot of errors.

  2. I also think setting aside your manuscript for a period of time helps you approach it with a more distanced eye. The longer you can let it sit, the better.

    Straight From Hel

  3. Thanks for the pointers. It is always amazing that no matter how many times we go through a ms, we can still find a little mistake her and there. That's why it is so vital to have a professional editor go over it. My editor is finding mistakes right now in a ms I went through numerous times and thought it was perfect. HA!

  4. Helen -- You took the words right out of my mouth! I always find errors, or simply things I could have done better, when I set my work aside for a week or two and look at it with fresh eyes. Just that in itself is opportunity for self-critique.

  5. Goodness, everyone must be taking the Labor Day holiday very seriously this year! I expect we'll have more visitors the next few days, when Elsa offers a few more blog posts about self-editing.


  6. Christine:
    I'm glad it's helpful. I definitely agree that resting your ms before tackling the editing is the best approach.

    Yes, if you can get to a point where what you're reading doesn't feel familiar then you can more easily view it objectively.

    I know - even those who are good at spotting typos in other mss can still miss a few in their own work.

    It is an opportunity for self-critique, as you say, and it is important to view it as an opportunity and not a negative; many writers lose a lot of their confidence when they re-read their work with an overly critical eye.

  7. I have found that reading it out loud to someone really helps. I catch all kinds of silly errors then.

  8. Read the manuscript backwards when doing an edit for spelling. Read it out loud when doing an edit for flow. And read it several days, weeks or months later when doing an edit for content.

    It would be nice (and make the job easier) if spell check and grammar check actually worked :)

  9. Ms Karen:
    Reading aloud is very effective. It also helps if the person you're reading to can alert you to parts that aren't clear.

    Yes, I also like to do my proofreading backwards.

  10. This was really useful, and I look forward to more information on the process.
    Barbara (Popple)


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