There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in how we writers look at our own work. And those emotions can get in the way of getting a clear, focused picture of our strengths and weaknesses. If you want a clearer, more honest way of approaching your own writing and self-editing process, start here.
How To Be More Objective About Your Own Writing
1. Listen to your instincts. Brain science teaches us that humans are selective about what we give our attention to in any given moment. We suspect it’s the same with critique and the writer’s brain.
Let’s say a little voice is telling you your book’s ending isn’t quite right. But you second guess: Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s okay. The easy way out is to ignore your instincts and go with the voice that’s saying it’s good enough as is. The hard way out is to delete the last third of your book and rewrite it. Listening to your instincts can yield bigger, more surprising results than playing it safe.
2. Write down your own critique. If you think to yourself, My main character is weak on character development while you’re reading, then you’ve taken a good first step. But it’s easy to conveniently “forget” this issue or sweep it aside.
To get over this “if I can’t see it, it’s not happening” issue, write down your own strengths and weaknesses. In print, the steps you need to take become concrete, clear, and un-ignorable.
3. Ask for corroboration from a TRUSTED critique partner. If you’re really having difficulty seeing your own writing clearly, ask a trusted reader for help. Ask specific, pointed questions: “Does the ending feel lackluster to you? Is my main character too passive? What makes you say that?”
If your reader hints at or alludes to the same elements that you’re questioning, then it may be time to revise. But keep in mind that all readers bring their own perspectives to their critique, and ultimately you might not agree.
4. Don’t be afraid to delete passionately. Don’t think of deleting as “taking away” or “breaking down.” Think of it as an act of bravery that “makes room” and “sets a foundation for expansion.” If you’re not 100% sure a scene or a line is working, get rid of it completely. Don’t even look at it again (of course, you may want to save it somewhere for future reference).
By starting with a truly blank slate, you’re either going to discover something totally new and wonderful, or you’ll find out that you had it right the first time.
5. Step away for a while. You’ve heard before how helpful it can be to put some distance (time) between you and your work-in-progress. Taking a break isn’t lazy. In fact it can be very hard to make yourself step away from your work for a while.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your project is to not do anything at all. And when you return to your project, you can tackle it with fresh eyes.
Self-Editing Isn’t For Wimps
Maybe you’ve heard James A. Michener’s quote: “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” A lot of the hard work of writing happens during the editing process. So go forward bravely and without fear of seeing something you might not like. There’s power in self-editing: It will allow you to move upward and onward in your writing and your life.