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We’ve all been there: that point when you’re done with a story, essay, manuscript, or what-have-you and still reeling from the elation of feeling the accomplishment. Chances are you’re eager to get on with the next step in the process so you steamroll ahead, but is it really the right step?
As writers, we all have that thought we can edit our own work with no problem. Editing on your own is rampant with its own set of problems that most tend to shrug off. It can be done right though, it just takes some work. Through careful experimentation after I realized editing your school papers ten minutes before they were due was not a good idea, I’ve found that these tips help and if you do decide to self edit, they might help you too.
#1 – Wait.
Arguably the best method I’ve found for critiquing your own work. When you try to edit your piece as soon as you finish writing it, you still have those lines you wrote somewhat memorized in its exact order. While you’re reading, your eyes may glaze over easy mistakes like grammatical errors because your mind is quicker than your eyes and it knows how things should go. Give your mind time to forget some of the details.
When you wait a couple weeks and then go reread your work, it gives your mind a chance to forget what exactly you were trying to write and you’re more likely to catch your mistakes. Plus you can pinpoint areas in your writing that may be confusing or not explained clearly enough and this buffer of time gives you a chance to go: “Huh? What was I trying to say here?”
#2 – Read it out loud.
A simple technique but one that pays off big time. Reading your work out loud slowly gives you a chance to literally comb through your words as well as testing to see how they flow together and allows you to catch some awkward spots. It helps with so much more than just checking for mechanical errors: it makes your work feel more real, more concrete and hearing it can help you find what works and what doesn’t.
It may get annoying to read your work if it’s particularly long so I like to mix it up with utilizing text to speech – a narrating feature that reads your words back to you. It’s usually included with some word document programs or most likely already installed on many computers these days.
#3 – Be critical.
Be harsh with what belongs on your work. Make sure it really fits. Don’t be afraid to change something, even if you love it dearly because it may be for the better to change it. Does it really belong? Does it make sense? Be ruthless.
“When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
#4 – Get another pair of eyes on it.
Yes, this is an article about self editing, but sometimes there are just times when it’s best to have someone else look over your work. They can offer another perspective; you may think your work is the best ever but it may also confuse or befuddle everyone else. After all, you see what you want to see and you know how it should go. You just don’t always see the holes that may be glaringly obvious to someone else.
Try to get someone other than a friend or family member. They are there to offer you support and may not give you the critique you need.
#5 – Trial and error.
These are only the tips I’ve found that work for me the best. They may not be helpful for everyone since everyone is different and has different styles. See if you work better in the morning or at night. Experiment. Find out what works best for you.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid of going against other advice if it works better for you. Maybe you really are one of those mythical people who are better when they edit immediately (you’re probably not).