Editing the self: the writer’s final frontier


I’m almost finished. I have three chapters of Pride’s Children, Book 1, left to edit – out of twenty.

It seems a good time to stop and review the lessons of editing, as this is the last time I’ll do this for the first time.

Editing is a good kind of boring work.

The purpose is to make things better, whether you thought your writing was already good enough, or whether you’ve been postponing all those little decisions while you were writing so you could finish.

‘Better’ is subjective AND objective.

I’m eschewing the ‘professional editor’ step.

So I have to do an especially good job myself, or be subject to the standard complaint about indies, that they really need a professional editor.

Some do, some don’t.

What is really necessary is that the WORK be edited to a PROFESSIONAL STANDARD.

So, if I’m going to do this myself, I need to put my reputation on the line. But most importantly, I need to learn to do the work, and edit my writing down to the last jot and tittle.

The writer has CHOICES to make

The hard part: take, for example, cliches. While you don’t want too many cliches in your writing (and AutoCrit flags a huge bunch of them), in every scene you have to decide if THIS character USES cliches, to that extent, and therefore they stay. Can you almost tell which character it is because of which and how many cliches are used?

Or spelling: Andrew is Irish; to make the point, I throw in an occasional ‘colour’ or ‘whilst’ in his thoughts in his pov – which either makes you think I can’t spell, or charms you into remembering he’s a bit foreign.

Or flashbacks: Bianca’s father lives on in her head, in the form of little sayings he used. Aphorisms. Am I using too many? Do they work? Is it reasonable for her to remember his words? Yes, given her backstory – and this is the only way you learn some things about her.

The main problem? I keep getting pulled in to reading.

Then I stop, pull myself back out, go back to the protocol I’ve established over the long slog of editing I’ve been doing since I finished figuring out how to format my ebooks and compile with one click.

It slows down the forward progress to keep reading sections.

I still have NOT read Pride’s Children, Book 1, from beginning to end. I haven’t dared. I want to keep my eyes as fresh as possible to catch… well, if I knew, I would have fixed it already.

But my brain does seem to be on full alert at some level, because I have run into a number of small but important things, startled myself by noticing, pulled up the whole text (all 160K words – something Scrivener does without a hiccup, and which I never liked doing in Word), and found that yup, I DID use the same saint’s name for two churches on two different continents. Not that it matters – Catholic churches all over the world share names. For example, when we moved to Hamilton, NJ, our parish was St. Gregory the Great’s – and that is the name of the last parish I had in Southern California when I was a child, before I moved to Mexico at 7, and yes, I still have the school patch from way back then. But I digress.

It was easier to give the church in Colorado a different saint’s name than the one in Ireland, Co. Galway. Easier than explaining it.

The things I’d been postponing or waiting for

I ran the parts which needed to be an accurate expression of Catholic dogma (very tiny parts, but important to what one of the characters, Kary, believes) past my parish priest – he suggested I not use the name of an actual local church. So that church had to be renamed, as well. He also kindly said my dogma was okay – no unintended flubs. That was encouraging. As usual, the author accepts responsibility, in writing, for all errors, but it’s still nice to know 1) I sought advice, and 2) passed.

NAMES – last chance

It’s not that hard to change names before you publish – but PC has a cast of thousands (okay, 64 named characters in the three books, so far), and I’ve tried very hard not to reuse names or initials, and it isn’t that easy to find a name that fits in with the rest. Welcome to St. Bartholomew’s. Phew. Nobody names a kid Bartholomew any more (thought there are some Barts out there), so it was easy enough. Fortunately, there are plenty of odd, long saint’s names, and we now ALSO have a St. Augustine’s. For which I have to decide which pronunciation of to use, as I’m planning to do the audiobook ‘as read by author.’

I give characters easy names, and keep a detailed bible, but there are only 26 letters in the alphabet (a few more if you include the letters unique to Spanish), and this is my last chance to make sure that my character names are unique, their initials are unique, and that I don’t have unintended consequences (the character whose initials were B. S. has been renamed).

Is that a plot hole? Check the CALENDAR

When you write on a scene-by-scene basis, even with a very detailed plan/outline/plot and a calendar, you eventually get to the place where everything is stitched together, and has to hang as a unit. I’m at that point, and I’m finding that I want to make small changes. I doubt anyone else will pay attention that closely, but I do believe readers create a gestalt as they go, and subconsciously notice things which make them go ‘Huh?’

I’m supersensitive – that’s my job – so a reader won’t have to go ‘Huh?’ I sincerely hope.

It’s ALWAYS the writer’s responsibility: the buck stops here

The process is slow at times: yesterday, I noticed a flaw in the editing software – I used a particular verb way too many times in one scene, enough times that I noticed, but the software never flagged it as an ‘overused word’ – and so, since I want the editing software as good as possible (so I don’t have to remember to do things on my own), I took the time to give them feedback (which they kindly appreciated). And then I tackled the job of finding replacement ways to say something that did NOT involve that verb quite as many times. Lazy brain, tired brain – each one of these original expressions was fine, and colloquial, and often the simplest expression of an idea – but cumulatively (and I don’t know how I didn’t catch them before I posted that particular scene online), too much.

Now I have to go over the WHOLE thing one more time – to see if that was an accidental bad habit one week when I was polishing THAT scene, or whether I do it all the time! Aargh!

Beta readers and commenters are HELPERS

BTW – writing in public, posting your work as you go, does not necessarily make it error free: readers who are reading for story don’t notice these things. They cut you WAY too much slack. Thanks guys – I think that means your attention was otherwise occupied.

It doesn’t excuse ME.

And that is the report from the trenches: I’m almost at the end of editing, and willing to do whatever is necessary so my words don’t get in the way of you enjoying my story when you read it as a whole.

And if you’re wondering why the blog posts have been few and far between: this stuff takes a lot of time, and a lot out of you. I’m procrastinating right now – there are those final three chapters, and that little bit to examine about the timeline, and…

If you’re a writer, comments welcome. If you’re a reader, do you think I’m crazy?


PS: I’m now using Anti-Social to great effect. I added all the sites I usually surf to the list of social sites I want to avoid, and Anti-Social kindly blocks me from accessing them during my chosen working period – once I set said working period. Great little programs, Freedom and Anti-Social (from the same folks). Make one decision (breakable, but at a cost in time that makes it an actual choice), and it is now just enough harder to surf that my brain often doesn’t bother.

PPS Thanks to Quozio for the easy quotation images.


16 thoughts on “Editing the self: the writer’s final frontier

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’m really sorry, but I can’t read other people’s work and maintain focus – there just isn’t enough brain to do both. And I’m definitely no expert – I’m working on getting my first up. Better ask people who are competent to give advice, especially ones with a lot of experience.

      There are many editors on the web who will do a sample edit either free or inexpensively (hoping to get the business of the full book). Your friend should find ones who state on their websites that they edit her kind of writing.

      If your friend has her sample up, I hope she can also find readers who like time travel stories to vet it for her.


  1. donnainthesouth

    wow – you’re really putting yourself into this – amazing! but as a reader, even though I might not pick up on these things (though I hope in what I’m doing I will) I know when I’ve read self- or maybe older vanity-published works that definitely were not professionally edited making them harder to read


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I will probably not write that many books in my lifetime – I’m already retirement age – so I would rather they be of as good a quality as I can make them.

      Once I run out of things I KNOW I have to do to make it better, then I’ll let my proofreader and eARC readers tell me if they find stuff I still need to work on, but I have to do MY part first.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The work must be done – by someone. Thanks for the kind words (will not point out those posts done when the brain was on simmer).

      What you can’t do is not have the editing done. Depends on how much distance you can get from your own work – and I think it helps to be a structuralist, because I have some goalposts to aim between.

      And you MUST root out typos, and make style decisions, and insist on consistency, and check ALL forms of things, and check the whole manuscript every time you find a new kind of error.

      It took a LOT of time. It time is money, it may not be cost-effective, but I’m not to the point where I can say that. I think I’ll find at least three people to proof the first three chapters (sample) so they are extra squeaky clean.

      Your scenes are quite clean – I haven’t tried to read things as a whole so I don’t know how they hang together over the long haul, especially since you are a true serialist. Are you planning several books out of the series? I always intended this book and its sequels; all I need to do is finish writing them.


      1. Alice Audrey

        Actually, I’ve got all kinds of tie-ins planned. First is Moving In, which uses some of the characters from Suzie’s House but is a stand alone. I’m currently in the revision stages of A Beautiful Spanish Hussy, which comes directly out of the part of Suzie’s House that had to do with Drew’s loss of his career as an FBI agent and takes it’s title from the series. Then I have three books in the works that are revised versions of compilations of various episodes. For instance, Attack of the Killer Redheads includes everything in the first three years of episodes having to do with the Connor brothers. Boys Will Be Boys includes everything from the first through fourth year involving Gene, Ben, or their crazy teacher, Mrs. D.

        Getting the consistency and catching all the typos is a daunting task for even one book. I admire you for being able to take it on without paid help. I’m no good with line edits. My forte is basic book structure.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          It’s not exactly fun; every day I have to bring myself to the sticking point before I can get started. But it has been instructive, with this and all other functions associated with publishing and writing, to put myself through it. I’ll be in a much better place to determine where paid help is useful (and what to expect of the process) for future books – because I know I CAN do it myself, and have some idea of the COST in time and effort.

          Other people will get to publication before me, but I find that doesn’t bother me at all – I’m old enough to enjoy doing it my way, and everything I’ve done so far feeds back into the main task: making me a better writer and storyteller.

          All this, and at my own pace, too!

          But I’m glad, with my limitations and disabilities, that I don’t HAVE to publish to eat. That would definitely take it out of the realm of ‘fun.’ But then, there’s NOTHING ELSE I can do that would feed me and my family, either. Sometimes having few choices is quite liberating, especially if you like one of the ones left.


  2. Janna G. Noelle

    There are two pronunciations for “Augustine”? I usually say “AU-gus-tine”; what’s the other: “au-GUST-tine”?

    Very interesting reading your reflections on self-editing. In the near future, I will be revising my own WIP and it will be the first time as well (for a novel-length work). I’m not really sure what to expect as I’ve not even opened my book 1 for years. Regardless of its starting quality, I think it will be a nice change of pace for me to carry out a different stage of the writing process after years and years (and years of nothing but writing first draft.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Yup. I say Ah-GUS-tin. AU-gus-teen is closer to the Spanish, Agustin. I shall endeavor to be consistent when reading – or do you think I should change it to St. Mark before I get any further?

      It’s all about using the necessary editing to improve the writing – so next time’s work requires less editing because you automatically self-edit as you go. Like spelling correctly, and knowing the difference between less and fewer.

      Too much freedom is actually debilitating. And if you allow too much creativity in spelling, you will slow down a lot of your readers as they have to sound things out.

      True good grammar and spelling make the reading transparent – so the story can enter the reader’s mind unopposed.

      I did an enormous amount of editing as I went, before I published scenes on the blog. Apparently, not enough.


      1. Janna G. Noelle

        Oh yes, I forget that American pronunciations are notorious for obliterating accents, lol. On my recent trip to New Orleans, all those beautiful French street names were anglicized into cold, hard bricks of speech – it was tragic. Personally, I like Augustine better than Mark because I like the meaning of the word “august”. If you go with it, just pronounce it the way your characters would.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Americans do the same to Spanish.

          I personally think most immigrants (and people born here) should be competent in English – so we have a common language. But butchering other tongues to get there is NOT okay.


  3. juliabarrett

    Yeah, that names thing. Always second guessing. Sometimes even if you don’t like a name or aren’t 100% sold on a name, it works regardless. Good for you for self-formatting!


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Not every self-publishing writer wants to do everything. And I’m drawing the line (maybe) at setting up a home recording studio I’ll use rarely (thought recording time is expensive!).

      But I have found each step fascinating, even the formatting, in its own way – and I can see why people set up businesses to do them. It can be FUN to finally make the one-click formatting do what you want. Or to write ‘After AutoCrit’ on a file, signifying that I’m not doing any more editing for language on it.

      All the mysterious steps really aren’t. Even editing.

      Liked by 1 person


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