If editing other people’s work is challenging, editing your own writing is downright painful.
It’s difficult to edit your own work for several reasons.
First, it’s your art. Your writing is a personal form of expression. No matter the subject, the piece is something you created. This makes revising, redrafting and cutting difficult. (Read more about why this is necessary to edit and condense your writing.)
Second, you’re too close. You crafted the words into sentences, which you then read and reread. It makes sense to you. You understand the topic. You know what you meant to say. It’s difficult for you to recognize when others have no idea what you’re talking about.
Third, humans make mistakes. Have you ever seen one of these?
Our eyes play tricks on us. We read right over typos that we normally would catch in other people’s writing.
Self-editing is difficult, but it’s also necessary. We don’t all have a full-time copy editor waiting to review our text. Even those of us who have worked with a full-time editor understand that cleaner copy leaving our hands means more control of the final product. In short, the ability to self-edit is critical to publishing autonomy.
11 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing
1. Just write first
We all know someone who writes five words and deletes two, making it a miracle that any piece is ever done. Don’t edit while you’re writing. Just get it all out. You can come back and fix it later.
2. Start with spell check
Although you shouldn’t rely completely on spell check (there’s a key difference between public and pubic, but they’re both words), it is a good place to start. Go ahead and run the spell checker before you begin editing, just don’t rely on it as your only defense against errors.
3. Step away
One of the best ways to recognize errors in writing is to step away from the piece. This could be something as simple as running to the restroom or to get a coffee. I like to let a piece rest overnight before I proofread it, but that’s not always possible. My favorite outcome is coming back to a story and realizing it’s not as bad as I previously thought.
4. Change formats
Printing out your story allows you to catch more errors than reading it on the screen.
If something prevents you from printing a piece, consider either reading in “preview” mode or bumping up the point size and changing the font before editing. These simple format changes make it easier to catch errors.
5. Change locations
You can take the format change concept further by printing the piece, taking a break and then reading the copy elsewhere. I worked with a reporter who always printed his story and edited it while sitting in a comfy chair in the lobby. Believe it or not, a change in location makes a big difference.
6. Read aloud
Read your work out loud and change anything that doesn’t make sense or that you stumble over. If you have to read a sentence more than once before you understand it, change it.
7. Read all the way through
Read the piece all the way through and consider it as a unit before you begin marking edits or making changes.
8. Macro edit
After reading the piece, consider the big picture. Are there sections that need to be cut or added? Is key information missing or easily identified? Does the piece flow?
Don’t start with polishing every sentence. Get the big stuff right first, then work into the details. Otherwise, you’ll end up carefully editing sentences that you’ll later cut or change.
9. Micro edit
Once you’re broadly happy with the shape and flow of your piece, it’s time to cut. Since it’s easier to write long than it is to write short, we tend to use more words than necessary. My advice is to pretend that every word costs you a dollar and save yourself some money.
When you micro edit, you’re considering every sentence and each word.
Make sure the piece uses correct style, spelling and grammar.
Write sentences in the most active voice possible, using subject, verb, object construction.
It’s also helpful to know you own habit words, so you can look for them in your writing. For example, that is my habit word. I use that way more than necessary. So, one of the first things I do during the micro editing process is eliminate the word that in every possible usage.
Be sure to reread your piece once you’re done editing. Sometimes you accidentally edit in mistakes or skim over them. If you can print again, move to another location and read aloud, do all of those steps again at this point.
11. Spell check
I always end my writing process with another spell check. I usually say this is using “spell check just because you can.” After all, it only takes a couple of seconds, but it can save a lot of frustration in the end.
The best advice I can offer is to get a good copy editor for the final step in the process. However, this isn’t always feasible, and you should complete these steps anyway.
Self-editing is difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible. I hope these 11 tips help you publish cleaner copy, avoiding errors that frustrate you when someone else catches them after publication
What tips or tricks do you use when editing your own writing?