No matter what you’ve written, hiring an editor is always a good investment; however, sometimes there’s just no wiggle room in the budget. So what’s a writer to do when there’s no one to turn to for criticism? He becomes self-reliant in the editing realm, with the help of some targeted recommendations.
Here are some pieces of self-editing advice that I’ve gathered from other writers, as well as from experience:
- If there’s enough time, put it away for at least a week. Don’t look at it. Don’t think about it. Don’t even entertain the idea of peeking at it. The idea here is to trick your brain into believing it’s someone else’s work. When you’re too close to the composition, you tend to read what you remember writing, not necessarily what’s on the page. How many times have I glossed over an “if” that was supposed to be an “it” or a “your” that was supposed to be a “you”? Too many to count. Why? Because I was reading what I thought I wrote, not what my eyes were telling me was there.
- Read it out loud. Saying words aloud improves metacognition, or the process of understanding how we learn. For auditory learners, this is particularly helpful when attempting to remember something. For self-editors, it introduces another cognitive aspect, doubling the chances of those mistakes being caught. You might say that when you read aloud, your eyes and your ears are all on the job. Plus, you get the chance to determine if what you’ve written just sounds stupid.
- Change the font. I have found that when I read what I’ve written in the same old font, I associate it with me, and it’s all-too familiar. If I change the font style, make it smaller, or make it larger, however, I see mistakes that had until then remained hidden.
- Lather, rinse, repeat. This works especially well for shorter works, 500 words or less. Read your work with a critical eye. If you find at least one mistake, read the entire thing again. If you find another mistake, correct that error and read through again, from the beginning. Don’t stop until you find zero mistakes.
- Give yourself an incentive. After you are certain that no mistakes remain, challenge yourself to find another one. Make a deal with yourself. You get a chocolate for every additional one you can find. If you can find five mistakes you get to schedule a massage for next week. The commodity is up to you – the point here is that if you offer yourself a tangible reward, it will act as a façade for the real reward: personal and professional excellence.
No matter your level of genius, editing your own work demands fastidiousness that transcends intelligence. Today, promise yourself that you will never again click on Send or Publish without knowing, to a high degree of certainty, that what you’re putting out there is your personal best.
Together, we can change writing for the better. I’d love for you to share your favorite self-editing practices here.
Need an editor? Contact me. I’ll put your writing through the wringer.
Thanks for the hints. I’m fortunate (very!!) to have a great editor (you!!), but these will help me get the cleanest copy to her. Isn’t it amazing how much more you see if you set aside the work for a week, or longer? After a month, I can tear into the revision like it is truly someone else’s, without too much pain over “killing my darlings.” I haven’t ever tried the font trick, but it makes sense why it would work and sounds useful. The reading out loud, that I know about, and need to do… even if my dogs look at me like I’m crazy!
Yes, setting it aside does make a huge difference – pretty amazing, really. Can’t wait to read what you have coming next – a gifted and hard-working writer are you.