Ten Tips for Self-Editing

These tips apply to editing your own work  – a manuscript you’re submitting to a publisher, a letter to the editor, a report for work, a blog post, an entry in your personal journal … or anything else. Not everything you write requires all of these steps – an e-mail to a friend may just need one quick read-through to check for errors. But if you want to accomplish your goals for writing the piece – demonstrating to your boss that you deserve a raise, convincing readers of the need for community action in a letter to the editor, selling your novel to a publishing company, whatever – follow as many of the steps as it takes to make your writing the best it can be.

1. Remember that writing comes before editing. On the first draft, don’t worry about making the prose perfect – just focus on getting your ideas on paper (or screen). You’ll have plenty of time to improve the work after you’ve written something to improve.
2. Whenever possible, allow some time to pass between finishing your first draft and beginning to edit. You’ll see your work with fresh eyes if you haven’t been struggling with it for hours or days. Depending on the deadline and the length of the piece, I like to focus on other things for a week or more between writing and editing. Often, that isn’t possible, but even a few hours will help.
3. First, read the entire document for the big picture. Look at the content, organization, and flow. Have you included everything you intended and nothing that isn’t needed? Does it make sense? Is it organized in a logical way? Does the text flow smoothly or is it jerky? Add or delete material, move things around, and insert transitions.
4. Correct any grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors as you find them, but don’t spend time proofreading for these mistakes until you are satisfied with the content.
5. As you edit, be aware of your pet problems. I’m notorious for leaving out words; some people tend to repeat certain words and phrases frequently; other writers have trouble with spelling or grammar or punctuation. You can improve your writing quickly by looking for and correcting these problems.
6. On the next edit, look at your word choices. Could you have chosen a stronger verb or written a better description? Are there superfluous words that can be eliminated to strengthen the writing? Can you revise sentences or paragraphs to make them clearer or more interesting?
7. Next, proofread for grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation.
8. If time permits, put the document aside again – for a few hours, days, or weeks – to clear your mind and give you a fresh perspective. Then edit again – and again – and again if needed.
9. Read the work aloud. I am always amazed at how many mistakes, awkward constructions, and overused words jump out when being read aloud. If you have a critique partner, fellow writer, or friend who will read the work aloud to you as you follow on a print copy, you will hear where they stumble and sometimes even read something different than what is written on the page, alerting you to areas that need to be changed.
10. Get another qualified opinion. If you are preparing a manuscript, report, or other document for publication or submission to a large or important audience, ask someone else to read it and give you their advice. Find someone who can really help you – a professional editor, a published writer, a coworker familiar with the subject matter, a teacher, an avid reader in the genre – someone who will give you an unbiased opinion. Your mother will tell you it’s wonderful; your best friend who is unfamiliar with your technical subject will nod and smile; a jealous competitor may tell you it’s awful. When you receive feedback from unbiased, knowledgeable readers, consider their advice and use what you determine will make your manuscript your best work.

Related Posts:
The First Draft: Pure Green Dreck
Editing: Turning Dreck into Prose

[tags]writing, editing, Lillie Ammann[/tags]

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