Review: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should have read this book seven years ago, which is when I bought it. I find non-fiction (and any story lacking the presence of aliens) difficult to focus on, though. Maybe I thought having it on my shelf, or the simple purchase, itself, would make me a better writer. I could look up at the spine now and again and say, “Yeah. I have that book. I’m a writer.”

I am a writer—anyone can be one of those. But according to this book, I’m not a very good one. Yet. I’ll get there, but it won’t be because I have such books lined up on my shelf keeping me company. Won’t be because I’ve read them, either. It will be because I kept writing, reading, recognizing my errors and working to fix them. Because I practiced.

I recently submitted a story to a publisher. To my astonishment and joy, they offered me a contract. Then they sent me four pages of first pass edit notes. Astonishment morphed into that squicky feeling at the bottom of my stomach and joy simply evaporated. I think I actually whined at my laptop. My editor referenced Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and suggested I read the first chapter. I looked up at my reference shelf and studied the row of shiny, un-cracked spines. Yep, there it was. Pristine, perfect and pathetically untouched.

I read the first chapter (the squicky feeling in my gut revolved a few times while I seriously considered replying to my editor, “Why for the love of all that is holy did you buy my story? It’s CRAP!”) and then I read the second chapter. Aliens had not made an appearance by the third, but I kept reading and the sick feeling moved through several recognizable stages along the way. Mountains and valleys of elation and depression. I also babbled out loud. “So that’s what that’s called. Okay, I can do that. Oh, my God, I do that all the time. Hey, I can do that. I do do that. I don’t do that. I’m good at that.” And so on.

Needing to read this book made it a more relevant and therefore enjoyable experience. The tone is not condescending and the advice is dispensed with good humor. There are plenty of examples to make every point and every chapter is followed by a checklist and exercises. The lessons are very clear; I understood the purpose of each chapter and I understood why certain things don’t work or how they can be improved. I didn’t put the book down and think, “Forget it. I can’t do this.” I put the put book down and wrote this review instead.

Now I’m going to print out my story and work through it from beginning to end, using what I have learned. No doubt, it will be a soul crushing exercise. But I feel prepared to tackle it.