It's hard. It's really, really hard. I'm in the midst of something new. I poured out a first draft of 83,000 words. Parts of it are good. Parts of it are not so good. I went through and started re-working the most troublesome areas and still wasn't happy with it.
When I tracked down the culprit, I found it right at the beginning. I'd done what I criticize other writers for doing all the time. I'd started in the wrong spot and loaded the beginning up with backstory, which was leaving the rest of my story pretty bland. I'm a firm believer in that you need a solid base if you want a strong story, which means I have to start almost from scratch (at least there's a little framework to guide me this time.)
Before I started deleting out mass amounts of text though, a tiny thought crept into my brain, "maybe I can let it slide for now, send it out to a few Beta readers and see what they think." I've already been working on this one for months, and I've set myself some pretty firm deadlines. But I couldn't do it. I personally get hives if anything leaves my laptop that I'm not psyched to share, and I try not to burden my Beta readers with multiple drafts. I trust my internal editor when she says something's wrong, even when she says, "This needs a complete rewrite." (Although there might have been some cursing involved)
I've seen some work from Beta readers with comments woven into the text, "Do you think this is too much?" And every time I answer, "yes." They're not posing those questions because they think they can slip something by, they're asking because good writers always question their work, and unfortunately the validity of their own opinion.
And sometimes my own characters try to tell me something's wrong.
"I didn't know why I was acting this way. It wasn't like me." If my character can't explain her actions, then maybe I shouldn't be making her do them.
I feel like there are lots of little signs we give ourselves, flags we wave to say, "Hey, this isn't working," and we let them slide because we don't trust ourselves, or we're so close to the story we can't make them out anymore. Which is why self-editing is so hard. So I'll ask you, how do you self-edit? Are you able to listen to your own gut, or do you need a second opinion? How do you take your work from good to great?