Top 5 Self-Editing Tips: Intention

In my first post last month on the topic of the Top 5 Self-Editing Tips, I covered in detail how a novel is structured and how you can be more aware of how to build the structure of your novel.

This month, let’s concentrate on an aspect of self-editing that writers rarely hear much about:  intention.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines intention as “(1) a determination to act in a certain way: resolve; (2) import, significance; (3) what one intends to do or bring about.”

The definition of intention includes other topics, but for our purposes, we can examine the synonyms for intention and determine how we might find intention in a piece of writing, whether fiction or non-fiction. Synonyms: intent, purpose, design, aim, end, object, objective goal.

Once you finish your first or second draft, ask yourself, “Did I fulfill my overall intention for writing this piece, and did I achieve my intention in each scene or section?”

Whoa! That sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? You might be thinking, how long am I supposed to spend on an edit? The answer: as long as it takes. Because if you have not fulfilled your intention in writing your book, then how can your reader know what you were trying to say?

Let me make this a little simpler by starting with a chapter or even a part of a chapter. Did you intend to make your character unsympathetic in this scene? If not, then you have not communicated the soul of your character to the reader. You have not fulfilled your intention. The reader might even think, “Marsha would never say that. Why is she being so rude?”

On a greater scale, your story or your non-fiction book should have an over-arching aim or goal. It is the road that connects you to the reader and pulls the story along. Yes, even a non-fiction book is more successful if it tells a story that persuades your reader to believe in what you’re writing about.

Your road will twist and turn in a novel, but you, as the author, should always keep the goal in mind. You don’t want to tell your reader up-front what your intention is, but you should know where you’re headed. If you take readers down a rabbit trail and nothing of significance happens, they will soon stop following you through the brush.

Only you know what you want to achieve in your book. If you’re leading your reader down a “road less traveled,” the trip may be leisurely or it may zip along. You may travel on a super highway, on a country lane filled with potholes, or you may walk with your reader down a garden path.

But if you veer off that highway/road/path just because you have a sudden inspiration, your book may be filled with pointless arguments (non-fiction) or characters who pop out of nowhere to deliver a useless piece of dialogue (fiction).

My intention in this post is not to say that plotters are better writers than pantsters. You can write your book as you please, but if you know your beginning and where you aim to end—intention—then the journey will be that much sweeter.

To be continued…

How will you self-edit your novel or non-fiction book to make sure your intention is clear and that you have achieved your goal in every chapter? 

16 Replies to “Top 5 Self-Editing Tips: Intention”

  1. When Barbara speaks, writers listen! Right, writers? I love this: “You might be thinking, how long am I supposed to spend on an edit? The answer: as long as it takes.” And here’s another great point that all nf writers need to keep in mind: “… even a non-fiction book is more successful if it tells a story that persuades your reader to believe in what you’re writing about.” Thanks for sharing your expertise, Barbara! Take-away value: priceless!

  2. Great post, Barbara! I find that patience is a huge part of self-editing. As a writer, too often, I want to ‘get something out the door’ when really, it could have used more time and a few more close edits.

    The idea of intention is a huge help. Thank you!

    1. So true! Patience is key in self-editing. I suggest that a writer impose an earlier deadline for writing the first draft and then spend the necessary time to polish the manuscript before sending it out.

      1. Great advice here,Barbara– both in the post itself and in the replies. THX! I always aim to complete the first draft earlier than my editor’s deadline to allow time for polishing. Not sure ANYONE would benefit from the first go around!:)

  3. Great post, Barbara.

    I always ask myself if I’m bringing the reader along with the main theme of the story, and that takes time and distance. If I rush too much on the story, I won’t be able to come back to it with fresh eyes when it’s time to edit.

    And I agree with your comment about plotters vs. pantsters – I have to know where I want the reader to end up, or I won’t be able to lead them there!

    Thanks for your insights!

  4. Pausing to think about intention early and often sounds like a great way to save time and agony in rewrites later on. Thanks for sharing! (:

  5. I’m just starting the editing process for my non-fiction book, and your reminders are very helpful. I made a list of things I didn’t want to forget in this process, and one is to “Stay true to your title.” This should help me check the message in each chapter, and the book as a whole.

  6. Thanks so much for these editing posts. I’ve been wondering if I plotted better would editing be so hard, and I think I may have my answer.

  7. I actually use a Word Plot Planner Template I made. I elaborated on a planner presented in “The Plot Whisperer” by Martha Alderson. I do not always use the information on the planner during the drafting of the scene, because it kills my creativity. However, when I revise my novel for structure, I have something I can refer to. Some of the categories include Progress, Setting, Scene Title, Synopsis, Conflict, Thematic Elements, Character Development, Character Goals, Author Goals, and Plot and Subplot Action. It saves me a lot of time during revision and helps me keep things organized.

    I also highly recommend “The Plot Whisperer,” Alderson addresses both writers who feel imprisoned and constrained by Plot outlines and those who prefer to outline. She talks about finding a system that works for each individual writer. She also comments that each novel is a different journey for the author who learns something about him or herself, the world and the writing and revision process. There is a heavy spiritual component, which sets it apart from other nonfiction books about plotting.

    If anyone is interested in the planner, please email me with plot planner as the subject and I can attach a copy of the Word Document for you.

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