Tips for Editing Your Own Writing

Posted by Tim

Editors exist for a reason, and it’s not to turn masterpieces into publishable garbage. Well maybe sometimes it is that, but as J. Russell Lynes once said, “no author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.” To keep the integrity of a piece, sometimes writers will take it upon themselves to edit their own work. Some writers will say this is ill advised, and that you shouldn’t overlook the value of a good editor.

Oftentimes writers have a hard time determining the good from the bad, and the first draft of anything is mostly bad. In most cases, it’s best to have a second opinion. And if you’re looking to have your writing published, you must remember, it’s not you that you’re writing for; it’s them.

But when an editor isn’t available, writers are left to their own devices. So here are a few tips to help you with the editing process.

Sit on It

This is an old piece of advice often given to high school and college students. Of course, writing your essay the night before it’s due defeats the purpose of this powerful editing tool. My tip to you all is: stop procrastinating. You may think you write better with a swiftly approaching deadline hanging over you, but the truth is no one does. If you don’t believe me, go back and look at those essays and see for yourself.

This idea of “writing better while under pressure” comes from the “in-the-zone” mentality that we feel while writing. The clock is ticking and there’s no more time to deal with distractions. When we’re in it, we think that every word is gold, but this is only an illusion. Sure, you may have dug out a few nuggets, but the piece has to operate as a whole and that sometimes takes hours of fine-tuning.

Giving your mind a break from the page will help you better assess what you actually have. As writers, it’s sometimes hard to look down on our own work. But allowing yourself some time between the first draft and the final helps separate the work from its author. The importance of this cannot be overstated, as it is critical to the editing process. You have to read your work as if somebody else wrote it and then show it no mercy.

Read Everything You Wrote the Day Before

Before you pick up from where you started, you should read over what you already have. Doing this allows you to quickly fix minor grammar or spelling mistakes, as well as get back into the rhythm/tone of the piece. For your writing to read consistent, you have to get back into the mindset you were in when you left off.

Doing this also helps you correct the course of the piece. You may find a few sentences that trail off or shy away from the core message or intention. It’s best to have your message be direct and focused before continuing on.

Look to the Title

If at any point during your writing session you start to feel lost or that you’re not making sense, look to the title. Of course, that’s assuming you have one.

Titles can be tough, and you won’t always know what it is before you start writing. Sometimes the writing will find a title for you. Other times a tentative title will work for the time being. For more on titles, see our post on What Makes a Good Web Title.

However the title finds its way to you, it has to capture the entirety of the piece. If some things aren’t fitting within the piece’s scope, either reshape them or cut them out, even if they are your favorite parts. “You must kill all of your darlings,” as Faulkner once said. Let the title be your guiding light when it comes to deciding what needs murdering.

Text to Speech Tool

This is a modern rendition of the “read it out loud to yourself” tip. It may sound funny at first, but you get used to it. There are a number of different voices you can download if you don’t like the ones preloaded on your computer. My suggestion is to find the one that sounds the least robotic to you.

The advantage is that you won’t have to worry about your brain accidentally filling in or changing words that aren’t on the page. It’s going to read you exactly what is there, and you’ll be able to hear if anything sounds off.

Online Grammar Checkers

The grammar checkers on word processors don’t catch every mistake. You can play around with some of the advanced settings to make it better, but even then, shifts in tense or misplaced commas can go unchecked. Thankfully, there are a few online grammar checkers that are free, but still work well.

The three that I’ve been using are:

Grammarly is the flashiest and most convenient. It can work as a Google Chrome extension, making it easily accessible. But besides ascetics, all three grammar checkers work the same. Copy and paste whatever needs checking and it will underline mistakes in a color-coded fashion.

Grammarly and PaperRater both have a premium option, which you can pay for, but I haven’t used these versions so I can’t speak on their usefulness. Still, no one of them is perfect. It seems that technology has yet to master the English language.

If you’d like to share some of your own editing tips, please leave them in the comment section below.

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