If you are a writer who skips the self-editing process, you should know that editing is the key factor that separates good writers from mediocre ones. If you are writing for a publishing house or a magazine, you certainly have a professional editor to do this job for you, but if you are an aspiring writer and you’re working all by yourself, then you will need to do the editing on your own.
Editing other people’s work is a challenge; editing your own writing goes beyond your imagination of hard work. However, our simple tips will help you go through the process more easily and successfully.
1. Just write first. Editing comes later.
The most important thing to remember is to finish your writing before you start editing it. If you stop to edit while you are writing, you will never finish the piece. You can make a break and correct a typo you noticed in the previous sentence, and it is fine to restart a sentence when you know it doesn’t sound well. However, you mustn’t keep making one step forward and two steps back. If writing without editing is a real struggle for you, you should try using Write or Die by Dr Wicked – an application that will force you to continue writing by punishing you every time you become distracted.
2. Step away from your work
It is very important to let your work sit and step away from it before you start with the self-editing process. If you are a blogger, you can give a few hours or a day for the short piece to sit. However, if you have just finished writing an entire novel, you need to put it aside for a week or two and, if possible, stop thinking about it. This will allow you to have a fresh impression when you come back to the writing. You will easily spot the parts that don’t fit, as well as the inconsistent characterization and minor holes in the plot.
3. Change the format
If you turn your words into another format, you will spot the mistakes or problems more easily. Printing out a blog post or transferring your novel onto an e-reader will let you see your work with a reader’s eyes. If you only take a look at your writing in its published form, everything will become clearer and easier to fix.
4. Start with the content and structure
One of the worst self-editing mistakes you could make is starting by polishing up each sentence, every phrase and word, and cut out the unnecessary parts of the material later. Editing the big picture first is much more efficient. You should start by cutting out unnecessary sections or chapters, adding the missing information and revising the sections or scenes that require radical improvements. You can start digging down into the individual words and sentences after that.
5. Lower the word count by 10%
It’s no secret that writers tend to over-write. This is why it’s important that you cut out 10% of the word count once you are happy with the big picture. Unnecessary words only weaken the story and your argument, which is why you need to get rid of them. If you find that the same point has been repeated several times throughout the piece – it’s probably unnecessary and your reader would be annoyed by the repetitiveness. Cut out all unnecessary adjectives and wishy-washy phrases and you’ll end up having a much cleaner piece that will be easier to read.
6. The spell check is great, but it’s not all-mighty
You should never forget to run your work through a spelling and grammar checker. However, you should not rely on this tool completely because it can’t catch every mistake. For example, homophones often go through this process unnoticed, but your readers will surely notice them. You need to use your eyes too.
7. Read the piece backwards
This is a strange technique, but it makes the tough self-editing process easier. It is a trick that will help you notice the small mistakes that were sliding past you. If you’re not used to this way of proofreading, you can read the piece really slowly. This can be done by increasing the font size, which will prevent you from seeing too many words on your screen at a time.
8. Know when you are finished
When you start editing and perfecting your own work, you could fall into a never-ending cycle of rewriting some parts and then changing them back. You should know when you are done and stop the process at some point. You cannot achieve perfection, so remember that a published piece is always better than a manuscript that sits on your computer forever.
Sandra Miller is freelance short story author and graduate of Literature from the NYU, where she wrote for the students journal and tutored students in writing. She recommends authors use professional editing services Help.Plagtracker. Now she is writing her first YA novel.