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  • Writer's pictureR.F. Hurteau

Beta Readers, CPs, & Self-Editing

I open my file, glance with trepidation at the myriad red marks and comment bubbles throughout, and promptly close it again.  I just can't.  Not right now.

Instead, I thought this might be a good time to share some of my thoughts on editing for any of my fellow writers that have found their way here.

Editing, a crucial element to any good story, is difficult.  In the beginning, when you first finish writing and hand it off eagerly to third parties for their feedback, it sometimes can seem like a personal affront when their constructive criticism comes back.  However, you shouldn't take it as one!  Constructive criticism is vital to a story that people can immerse themselves in.  One misspelled word, one convoluted, hard to read sentence, is enough to jar them out of a state of suspended disbelief.  What about that small but glaring plot hole you missed?  Or that phrase that you use far too repetitively?  Imagine rushing to try to publish something full of such errors.  You want their reading to be smooth, easy, and most of all—enjoyable.

Under no circumstance should you attempt to single-handedly edit your story.  There are several glaring reasons why, as the author, you are uniquely UNqualified to do so.  For one thing, if you have tendencies toward a certain grammatical error, you aren't going to notice it as you're reading through.  I, for one, use entirely too many commas when I'm writing quickly.  

Oh, great.  Now you're looking back through this post and nodding to yourself.  

"She's right," you're thinking.  "That's a lot of commas."

You've also got much too much invested in the story to be a credible source of information.  You know the characters and the environments too well to be able to immediately spot problems.  Perhaps you've failed to describe a relationship between two characters, and your readers are left wondering how the two have anything to do with one another.  You know, in your head, how they are related.  You may not see the lack of written evidence of said relationship when you're reading through.

There are dozens more reasons why editing on your own is simply a bad idea.  Certainly, you should go over your work.  You want to write, and rewrite, until you have as polished a draft as you can possibly create.  You want to take some time away from it, so it isn't so fresh, and then return to rewrite some more.  Ask yourself hard questions about what any given passage adds to the story—if anything.  And, when it feels complete, hand it off to someone else.  Critique Partners or Beta Readers are both great for this, and although your mom might help you find some of your spelling mistakes, you can't entirely trust her judgement as she's likely inherently biased in your favor.

I guarantee that you'll be shocked when it gets back to you, all marked up with red.  You'll read through the comments and think to yourself, "How could this be?  How could I have missed so much?  Maybe I should give up on writing all together!"  You agonize over each change, contemplating them as you painstakingly work your way through.  Satisfied at last, you hand it off to someone else—

Who has discovered an entirely different set of issues.

Don't worry, my friend.  You aren't alone.  Everyone needs the invaluable input of others in order to craft a finished product that they can be proud of.  Don't rush the process.  Instead, try to enjoy it!  Be thankful for all those willing to take the time and effort to help, whether they are an objective acquaintance, a paid professional, or both.  Preferably both. :-)

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