There is a certain amount of editing that goes hand-in-hand with the writing process. But the biggest changes usually come once the first draft is complete and, ideally, you run it by your editor. However, if you are not in the position to use a professional editor you will need to master the art of self-editing. Aside from the usual advice and quick tips to improve your writing, there are certain steps you will want to take when editing your work.
Here are five things to keep in mind before you break out that red pen on your next writing project.
1) Work From the Outside In
Think of editing as a narrowing-in process, beginning with the overall structure and finishing up with the minutia of spelling and grammar issues. Once you have the piece flowing the way you want it to, it is easier to spot issues with letters and punctuation. And somewhere in the middle be sure to check your facts and look for any missing links or plot holes, too!
2) Read It Out Loud
This may seem too obvious to state, but just in case… Always read out loud what you have written before submitting or pressing “publish.” When silently scanning the page your brain will subconciously fill in missing pieces and correct easy mistakes, for the same reason most of us can read this. It takes longer to process each word when you actually have to say it, so be sure to take this extra (if awkward) step when self-editing. It is also a great way to get a sense of what your readers will experience!
Very Useless Words
Mark Twain once gave this writing tip: Replace all instances of the word “very” with “damn,” because there is no “damn” way your editor will let you keep it in. In this case, you are your own editor, but the advice still stands. Eliminate weak words like “very” and you will find your writing stronger for it. If you don’t think the word following “very” can stand on its own, perhaps it’s time to replace it rather than finding an intensifier for it.
4) Put On Your Editor’s Hat
Have you reread something you thought you had edited and found that it made less sense than it did in your first draft? This is what happens when you try editing while still in writing mode. If you are proofing your own work, you need to look at it in the same way you would someone else’s. This is not the time to introduce new ideas. If you do find yourself suddenly inspired, mark down your thoughts separately, but then finish your editing and corrections. If you try to combine both tasks, you may end up with a sentence that starts off in one direction and ends up somewhere completely unrelated.
5) Keep Your Drafts
Every time you start a new editing round, make a copy of your document as it currently reads. The worst part of self-editing is when you write over an earlier draft that you later wish you could return to.
The most important part of editing your own work is to take a step back and try to look at it as an impartial reader. Whether that means physically removing yourself from your writing space or simply taking a few breaths to switch modes, self-editing is all about thinking as outside of yourself as possible.
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