A few months ago, the handle to the diverter valve on my shower broke off.
What does shower repair have to do with writing? And what’s a diverter valve?
You’ll never guess what happened when this writer tried his hands at shower repair.
As I later told the plumber, “I tried to do-it-yourself, but it didn’t do-it-itself.”
Sure, I pried the other handles off. I bought a wife-approved handle replacement set. I even accepted that my plumbing work was likely going to be fraught with equal parts confusion and frustration. But I was determined to see the project through.
I’d barely begun when I realized what I’d bought wasn’t going to work with what I had. I didn’t want to admit defeat, but I had to. I didn’t have the skills to finish the work.
That’s only one of the reasons you can’t edit your own book.
1. You’re too emotionally connected
If you’ve ever called your book your “baby,” you’re guilty of every writer’s chief sin: love.
No, there’s nothing inherently wrong with liking, or even loving, what you’ve written. You should be proud of bringing forth meaning from a blank page. But that kind of unabashed love for what you’ve created has a dark side: Blindness.
Think about first dates and new love.
Because you’re so enamored with the other person, you tend to look past their flaws (which they’re likely doing their best to conceal, just as you are). But if that relationship lasts, those flaws become more than noticeable. They might become irritating or even cause for separation.
In time, the willing blindness of early love leads to a reality check.
When you love what you see, you don’t see what you don’t want to see. Your brain loves you too much to inflict that kind of damage upon you.
Love leads to believing your book is flawless.
2. You’re too confident
If you’ve ever typed The End with a flourish and then hit Send immediately after, you’re guilty of writer’s hubris.
While you should celebrate the completion of any piece of writing, you should also know that you’ve only just begun. You still have self-editing, editing, pitching, querying, proposing, publishing and marketing to do.
If you’re one of the fortunate few to be agented and traditionally published, your book will go through a series of tortures — er, edits — that may cause you to doubt how well you crafted that first draft.
Overconfidence leads to believing your book needs far fewer edits than it deserves.
3. You’re too insecure
In Journal of a Novel, John Steinbeck summarized a writer’s internal life so well when he wrote, “I know it is the best book I have ever done. I don’t know whether it is good enough.”
The struggle between “I’m the greatest writer who’s ever lived” and “This is drivel; I should quit writing” is real. But take heart: if even Steinbeck doubted himself during the writing of arguably his best novel, East of Eden, then it’s OK to be wary of your ability.
When you’re insecure about your book, you won’t know what needs to be kept and what needs to be discarded. Instead of thinking every word, scene and chapter are astounding, you’ll mistakenly believe that they’re all rubbish. Neither belief is true.
Insecurity leads to believing your book needs far more edits than it deserves.
4. You’re too familiar with your book
Whether you’ve been working on your book for a month, three months or three years, you know your book better than anyone else.
Even when you’re not consciously working on it, you’re subconsciously figuring it out. If you’re serious about your writing, your book becomes a permanent resident in your mind, always ready for you to pluck it from your mental shelf.
This is one reason why our books become so precious to us. They’ve been with us so long that it can be hard to separate them from our identity. But such familiarity clouds your judgment.
Put another way, how evenly do you judge family members versus those you hardly know? Your familiarity with family often allows you to judge them more harshly (or more leniently) than you would people you hardly know. A certain amount of separation allows for a more evenhanded response.
Familiarity leads to believing your book is you.
5. You’re too tired of looking at your book
Writing a good book is hard, time-consuming lonely work.
Depending on how much you’ve pressed yourself to do that work, you might be weary of reading your own words. This is no way to edit.
If you’ve ever found yourself skipping over parts during self-editing because you just want to get through that phase faster, you’re making a critical mistake.
Tiredness leads to mistakes.
6. You lack time
Proper editing requires many hours, including multiple needs to research questionable issues, like whether you’re using lie or lay correctly.
If you’re self-editing under the stress of a looming deadline, you may cause more harm to your manuscript than good. Writers hire editors who have the time and expertise to do for their manuscripts what they cannot do for themselves.
Busyness leads to shoddiness.
7. You lack expertise
I so strongly believe that every author needs an editor that it’s the subtitle of my book on editing, Don’t Fear the Reaper: Why Every Author Needs an Editor.
Regardless of your writing capabilities, you likely lack the knowledge and expertise that a professional editor accumulates through editing dozens, if not hundreds of manuscripts every year.
Inexperience leads to amateurism.
Put another way, would you rather have a trained, experienced professional fix your shower faucet, or try to do it yourself based on YouTube videos and binging HGTV?
I know my answer.