One of the most important parts of writing for an audience is the editing. If you’re composing something just for yourself, who cares if anyone else can make sense of it? But if you want your work to be appreciated by others, you first need to make sure it’s comprehensible.
You can never beat working with a professional editor, but even writers who have that option would still do well to develop their self-editing skills. When you have a story to tell, you want to be able to pick and choose what is left up for interpretation, so even before sending it to your editor your work should be as final possible.
In the past we’ve taken a look at some ways you can become a better self-editor, and these new tips will help you to improve upon that base skill set.
Think Like a Reporter
Look for the “who, what, where, when and why” in your writing to see if your narrative structure is clear. Even if you aren’t telling a linear story, identifying these five elements will help make sure you haven’t left out any pieces of information that are vital to understanding the plot.
One Thing at a Time
Edit one element at a time. If you try to fact-check at the same time you are looking for grammar and spelling issues, you’re bound to miss things. The jack of all trades is master of none, after all. You can’t expect yourself to do a successful job on one thing if you are tackling other problems at the same time.
Question the “Rules”
The spellcheck program on your computer can be a helpful guide when it comes to double-checking what you’ve written. But its authority should end there. If you see a red or a blue squiggly line, take a look at the problem word or sentence but never blindly accept the suggestion. There are limits to what the installed dictionary will understand, and your computer definitely won’t pick up on subtle wordplay or artistic license.
By now, most of us are familiar with the Cambridge University example of how your brain automatically unscrambles words as you read. And if your brain can figure out what someone else meant in a misspelled word, you can be sure it will definitely scan right past your own mistakes. Outsmart your own cleverness by reading your text backwards. Obviously this won’t help with overall comprehension and sentence logic, but it will point out misspelled words that you may otherwise have mentally corrected and moved past.
As you can see, the biggest part of self-editing is to remove your writing cap and put on your editing one. That means tackling your own writing as you would edit someone else’s – remove any emotional attachment and take it one step at a time.
What tips have helped you become a better self-editor?
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