6 Ways In Which
Self-Editing Is Like Giving Your Best Friend a Makeover

After reading the title of this blog post, you may be wondering if I’ve gone crazy. I assure you that I haven’t. Read on to find out what I mean by this comparison.

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by Elzevera Koenderink

How on earth can self-editing be compared to giving your best friend a makeover?

Consider this: Many writers consider their first draft to be their baby. It’s hard to let go of, and the idea of sharing it with others, opening the way to potential criticism, seems impossible.

Once your book has grown out of the first draft stage and entered the self-editing stage, there’s a little more distance between the two of you. The manuscript has matured a little, developed a few opinions…

The relationship between the two of you has changed from an imbalanced one of parent and child to one of close equals: best friends.

Best friends want to see each other grow and aren’t afraid to tell each other the truth in the process. However, they care about each other enough to be gentle about it.

Thinking about self-editing from this angle can put things in perspective, allowing you to go into the self-editing process with a more positive mindset. So without further ado, 6 ways self-editing is like giving your best friend a makeover!

#1 – There’s plenty of potential.

Some people have more natural beauty and charm than others, that’s a given. So, does that mean that your best friend who lacks natural beauty and charm is doomed?

Because that’s what you’re saying when you call your manuscript all kinds of names.

Just like any person can get a successful makeover (‘successful’ being extremely subjective here; it can mean whatever you want it to mean!), any manuscript can be self-edited successfully.

Every single person out there has the potential to look and feel dazzling, inside and out. And every single manuscript out there has the potential to shine like nobody’s business. To hook readers and pull them in, making them turn page after page after page…

Trust me on this. I’ve seen a massive amount of early drafts in all shapes and sizes, and I have never come across one that didn’t spark my interest in some way or another. Sometimes it’s a tiny detail, and sometimes it’s the overarching plot or a character, but there’s always something that could be turned into a fantastic story that readers will love.

#2 – Room for improvement does not equal a bad start.

Just because there’s room for improvement, doesn’t mean the starting point is terrible.

Last year, I purchased a Dailymotion planner, and one of the things I love about their approach is the idea of upgrading vs changing.

Instead of looking at what you want to change in your life–implying that what’s currently happening is bad–you can change your mindset by looking at what you want to upgrade.

When you look at your best friend and consider how you can enhance her looks through a makeover, and you notice the necklace she wears is unflattering, will you tell her to get a new neck?

I didn’t think so.

Instead, you’ll look at how you can upgrade the situation by suggesting more flattering jewellery, or maybe no jewellery at all.

Your friend is perfectly fine the way she is, but you’re looking for ways to emphasise her strengths and downplay her weaknesses through this makeover.

The same goes for the self-editing process: instead of focusing on everything that sucks in your first draft, consider what you have to work with. How can you upgrade that?

By looking at your writing from an upgrading perspective, you focus on the future and how you can move forward with what you’ve got.

This will create a much more fun and satisfying experience than bashing your first draft.

Whenever you feel inclined to do that, ask yourself: Is this how I would treat my best friend? If not, then your manuscript doesn’t deserve the treatment either.

#3 – Some elements will have to go, and some elements will have to be added.

As the makeover progresses, you’ll make plenty of suggestions for your friend: Lose the hat, but go big on the scarf. Dial down the make-up, but pick a bold colour for your shoes.

Some elements will stay, some will have to go, and some will need to be added for the best results.

The same is true for self-editing. Some scenes will be set up just right for the grand scheme of things. Some scenes may not be a proper fit, and some will still need to be written.

This doesn’t mean those scenes should have been there to start with; the insights you have at this point are based on the steps you’ve taken so far.

When your best friend always wears hats, there’s no way you can come up with a beautiful hairdo for her until she loses the hat.

Self-editing is a process, and every step along the way has its purpose.

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#4 – You always want to work from big to small.

Working from big to small limits the amount of frustration throughout the process.

You don’t want to put beautiful eyeshadow on your friend’s lovely face before putting on the foundation. If you do that, you set yourself up for a negative experience.

When you’ve beautifully made up one eye and then realise you have to remove it to put on the foundation, it’ll be a ‘kill your darlings’ scenario.

If, however, you put on the foundation first, there’s no need to kill that darling at all.

So, set yourself up for success by tacking the big issues before moving down to the details. It’ll save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run.

And if your best friend has trouble adjusting to the new look, make sure she has her old clothes somewhere safe and sound to turn back on if necessary.

For your manuscript, make sure to keep a copy of everything you’re working on so nothing’s ever truly lost.

#5 – The key to success is knowing your subject on a deep level.

When you give your best friend a makeover, you need to know a lot about her. What’s her ideal image? How does she want to feel? What kind of clothes does she like? What are her favourite colours? Which colours look good on her? How comfortable is she with makeup?

The list goes on and on.

But once you know these things, the makeover will be a no-brainer. Every choice will be a logical consequence of the knowledge you possess.

The same goes for self-editing. Your characters are at the core of your story. Everything relates to them: the plot, the characters’ journeys, the narrator’s tone, the way the world is portrayed…

So taking the time to get to know your characters on a deep level is crucial to set yourself up for success later down the line.

Thorough character development in which you really step into your characters’ shoes is key to nailing every other aspect of your writing.

Plot holes and inconsistencies tend to be the result of a flaky relationship with the characters. Just like a mismatched makeover would result from diving into it without making sure you get all the information from your best friend.

#6 – You want to focus on one thing at a time for the best results.

When you do the makeover, you’ll be working systematically: clothes, hair, makeup, accessories… You won’t put in one earring, then straighten or curl one strand of hair, then put on one sock and so on and so forth.

However, that’s precisely the approach many writers take when it comes to self-editing. It can be tempting to jump from one thing to the next, feeling like you’re working efficiently by trying to tackle everything at once.

But that strategy won’t get you the results you want.

If you want the end result to be as good as it can be, I highly encourage you to focus on one specific thing at a time when self-editing.

Start with the big picture. Look for character inconsistencies, for example. Start with a single main character. Then another readthrough for the next main character.

This will be a lot more satisfying than reading your manuscript over and over again trying to look for everything at once and feeling like you’re missing things (which you will be).

Do yourself a favour and complete the makeover step by step. Go through the self-editing process one step at a time.

Just because there’s room for improvement, doesn’t mean the starting point is terrible.

Did this post help you put self-editing in perspective? Share your biggest takeaway in the comments!

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It only takes a few seconds, and it will make a big difference to someone out there.

6 ways in which self-editing is like giving your best friend a makeover

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