Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tackling the Task of Self-Critiquing

By now you have hopefully begun to develop an objective, and positive, attitude towards your own writing. You're ready to give yourself a critique. This is a valuable self-assessment that will show you whether your work is ready for an editor, or whether it first needs some more work.

Start your self-assessment with a straight read through from beginning to end, as if you're reading any other novel - but keep a notebook or computer file open at hand for your notes. Make brief corrections if you spot them, and make quick notes if you think of something to change or check, and also record your thoughts about the plot and characters as you're reading. Most important for your own self esteem is to make a comment whenever you really like something. These points can help later on if you become overly critical.

Revising and rewriting

After the first reading comes the revision phase. Think about the word "re-vision" in this context: to view again, but also to reassess your vision for your manuscript. What was your original vision for the story? Has that changed? Do you need to get your story back to what you originally envisioned, or do you need to incorporate some great improvements that you've come up with since the planning phase?


While you should correct basic errors you spot while reading through your manuscript, intensive proofreading should be your final task. After all, you don't want to waste your time proofreading text you might delete, or forget to proofread a new section you might insert afterward.

Give yourself another few weeks away from your revised manuscript before you tackle this stage. Then read through your work very carefully, looking up any word you're not sure about for correct spelling and usage. Challenge yourself on any clich├ęs that you find, and on overused and excessive modifiers.

Many word processing programs like MS Word have features for Tracking the Changes you make (in Word: Tools, Track Changes). You can see the changes you've made, read versions of your altered manuscript, and also compare documents. These features may or may not work for you, but it's worth experimenting with different options.

Also in this series:
-- How to Critique Your Own Manuscript
-- Developing a "Critical" Mindset
-- Basic Proofreading Tips

And Patricia Stoltey has more great tips coming up to help you with the self-editing process...

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. In that final proofreading phase, also weed through passive verbs. I'm finding a lot of those in manuscripts I work on.

    Good advice in this series. Thank you for laying it out and taking us through it step by step.

    Straight From Hel

  2. It's the nit picking I hate. I love changing stuff like sentence structure, passive verbs, filling in more interesting words, taking out extra adjectives, and adverbs. I hate the fine comb process where I need to look for extra spaces, words that sound the same, but in my hurry to type I spelled the wrong way, all those little things that need to be attended to, but are a drag. I'm always relieved when that's over.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Hi Thank you for this great information. I went to your site and was very impressed with all the info you have there. Thank you for sharing.
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Authors

  4. LOL, Morgan, I'm with you. I hate that last pass through. That's why I'm so thankful that someone else is doing that on my books at Five Star.

    This was a good series, Elsa. I really like the idea of giving ourselves the positive comments as well as noting what is wrong as we read through.

  5. Good advice on the cooling off period. It makes for fresh eyes that can spot areas that need help. I'm doing a little (unintential) cooling off with my current WIP. :-)

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Still putting off reopening my old manuscripts, but I'll get to it soon, and this advice is invaluable. Thanks.

  7. Helen:
    Yes, there is a lot that an author can do to improve a ms technically before the editor sees it.

    It's the dreaded "housekeeping" that we all put off, isn't it?

    BronzeWord, Maryann, Janet, and Sheila:
    Thank you all for your kind comments.

  8. I always put my manuscript through the AutoCrit Editing Wizard, too. It finds a ton of problems that I missed.

    Thanks for the excellent series of articles.


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