Let’s face it, new writers make many of the same mistakes. It’s great that you’ve got a great story and characters you love, but it’s the little things that take your writing into polished territory. All those ‘ly’ words, telling when you should show, mixing up point of view, repeating yourself because you don’t trust your writing enough yet… I know I’ve made plenty of them.
That changed when a friend gave me a book that would change the way I write forever. I was approaching a major edit of a manuscript and my friend, who had been raving about the book, very thoughtfully bought me a copy. I can honestly say it is the best present I’ve ever been given. Reading it was one lightbulb moment after the another.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King takes you through each common mistake one by one, with a chapter devoted to each: show and tell, characterisation, point of view, dialogue etc.
I used each chapter as the focus for an edit: I went through my manuscript for show and tell (chapter one) – tip: use highlighters to differentiate them so you can see how much you show and how much you tell – then for characterisation (chapter two), then for point of view (chapter three) and so on.
All up, it involved editing my novel 12 times, without even going into the big structural stuff. I won’t lie – it was A LOT of work. But by the end of it, my novel was so much better than anything I’d written before.
And by going through that process (did I say it was a lot of work?), something happened I wasn’t expecting. I became so aware of the things that weakened my writing that I automatically avoided most of them from that point on. The next first draft I wrote was easily as good as my third drafts on previous manuscripts (yes, I have several of them and no, they will never see the light of day).
There’s a free PDF version here but I recommend buying a copy, so you can make notes in it.
What books have helped you improve as a writer?