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The Little Things Novice Writers Miss: How to Spot Issues in Your Writing

Over the past several months we've explored some of the little things novice writers ignore in their manuscripts. These details bring your story to life: the sense of a larger world, how things are made, side characters' motivations, and most recently, what clothing says about a person. Today we'll explore how to find the weaknesses in your own writing.

The importance of self-editing

Some new writers make the mistake of thinking their only job is writing the first draft. They don't need to fix the weaknesses in their story. That's what editors are for, right?

To some extent, this is true. A professional editor is always necessary because they'll see things you won't. But their job isn't to fix your story. Their job is to show you what needs fixing and give you some advice on how to fix it. If you send your first draft to an editor, you're still the one who needs to do the heavy lifting after they find issues.

Editing also costs money. If you're seeking traditional publication, the publishing house will cover editing, but they'll only accept a manuscript that already displays a certain amount of polish. If you want to self-publish or work with an editor before querying, you'll need to pay the editors yourself. Most editors charge per word, and some charge by hour. Either way, the more work you give them, the more you'll end up shelling out.

Learning effective self-editing will save time, money, and heartache throughout the publishing process. Once you're trained to spot weaknesses in your own writing, you'll even be able to produce better first drafts.

How to train yourself to see weaknesses in your own writing

Our books our like our children, so we'll inevitably gloss over a few of their faults, but we can train ourselves to be more aware of what's wrong with them.

Here are three ways to train yourself to spot problems in your manuscripts:

1. Critique others' work

The best way to train your editing mind is to edit others' work before you edit your own. Learning to identify what doesn't work in others' manuscripts will help you see what's going wrong in yours.

Many critique groups require that writers bring in their own work on a regular schedule. If you don't feel comfortable committing to that yet, sign up for a site like Critique Circle. You'll be able to critique as many stories as you want before submitting one of your own.

2. Print your work out to read it

Another great way to get into the editing mindset is to literally see your work in a different way. This can trick your brain into perceiving it as a new story.

So, print it out, read it, and keep a red pen handy to make notes. If you can, try to also do your reading in a space separate from where you wrote your novel. This makes the editing process an entirely new experience.

3. Create watch lists

As you go through your manuscript, put any recurring issues you notice into a new "watch list." Include things like words you use too often, characters having too many similar scenes, and phrases you fall back on.

Keep this list handy when you're editing, and reread it before starting a new book. This will help you spot the issues in the first draft and eliminate them before you even reach the editing stage.

Final Advice

Looking for the flaws in your precious manuscript might hurt, but it's the only way to grow as a writer. In the end, the best writers are those who dedicate themselves to bettering their craft with every project.

This is the final article in the Little Things Writers Miss series. Little Things Writers Miss was a series exploring common elements of world-building, character development, and story elements that novice writers often neglect. Every month on the 15th and 30th (or the closest weekdays), we explored two of the little things writers miss, helping writers identify and eliminate issues in their own work.

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Dianna Gunn is the author of YA fantasy novella “Keeper of the Dawn” and the Write Plan content writer. She also blogs about creativity, life and books at The Dabbler.


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