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How Self Publishing Made Me a Better Writer

As I'm sure you know, I self published a novella called Prison 917 in August. This was the first piece I had ever published, and I'm really proud of it. But it took me a while to get to this point.

Before I started writing 917, I wrote novels. Since about seventh grade, I only wrote novel-length works. No poems, no short stories, no prose, nothing but novels. Which was fine. I loved writing, I liked longer stories, I worked well with longer pieces. The problem? Editing them.

I hate editing. I cannot express how much I hate it. I know the story, so none of it is terribly interesting to me. When I'm writing it, I'm deciding how things are going, who is going to say what, what the tone is. Editing? Yeah, I already know all that stuff. There is nothing new about editing. Not only is there nothing new, if I decide I have to rewrite a part? Well, I already wrote it! I don't want to do it again!

I'm the kind of person who, if I die too many times in a video game, will just stop playing it because I do not want to do it again. Rewrite an entire chapter? No thank you, I'll just abandon the story for ten months, go back to it, decide I don't want to rewrite that chapter now either, and literally change the entire plot of the story until I can avoid that chapter. Then, of course, with the new plot, there will be another part I need to fix up, I'll refuse, and the cycle starts all over again.

Then I wrote Prison 917. I never thought I would be a novella kind of person. I have always been much more interested in longer stories, with lots of character development, interweaving plots, that kind of thing. Prison 917 was fun to write, I wasn't worried about the little hints about what was coming, I didn't have to worry if what a character was doing would still be in character in 100 pages, because there weren't a hundred pages.

Because it was so short, editing was more like reading. Sure, that still bored me at parts. But I didn't have to look for continuity errors (also one of the joys of having an unreliable narrator!), I didn't have to worry about character development, and I didn't have to worry about describing more than one location, or how anyone looked. They stayed in the same place, more or less, and their looks and clothing weren't all that relevant. It was a very easy story to write.

I started to a sequel to 917, and I wrote it in maybe five days. It was still just as easy to write, once I worked out a few plot points I wanted to get to. Right now, it's about five thousand words shorter than 917. I am already though the first rounds of edits (I usually have about seven rounds).

The thing I learned from 917 is how to edit in a way that worked. 917 I broke into "chapters" of about 5-10 pages, and only edited that. Just ten pages, as if it was a standalone story. Once I had gotten through all of that, I could look at it as a whole, but the annoying things, like grammar, sentence structure, phrasing, were already done. And because I had looked at it as a standalone story, seeing how one "chapter" connected to the next wasn't boring.

For 917's sequel (which I haven't settled on a name for yet), I'm not going to such extremes. I'm reading it as a full story, but I have an outline for how I'm going to edit it each time. I'm using the same model I figured out for 917, which goes something like:

Edit 1: Reread the story, add bits and pieces to make it clearer, to elaborate, or to clarify

Edit 2: Check grammar, sentence structure, and phrasing by reading the story out loud

Edit 3: Check for continuity, make sure everything makes sense

Edit 4: Remove parts that don't make sense or don't add to the story. Add things you forgot or just thought of to improve the story

Edit 5: Check grammar, sentence structure, and phrasing (again) by reading the story out loud

Edit 6: Give to Beta Readers to see what they think. Work around their comments to improve the story.

Edit 7: Final grammar check, final continuity check, final everything check

While I have edited my work before, I never managed to finish editing my work until 917. I had to learn how to edit an entire work, even if it was only around 70 pages. Now that I have a system in place, even if I'm sure it will change, I can breeze though editing a lot easier, knowing exactly what I have to do next.

I learned a lot with 917, from marketing to how self publishing even works, to how to beg people for reviews. I never really expected to fix a problem I had had for years, especially without even realizing it.

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