Essential Editing Tips: How to Self-Edit Your Own Writing
by Writing Workshops Staff
A week ago
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” —Elmore Leonard
Self-editing can be a challenge even for professional writers, which is why so many editors have jobs. Even the best writer has to take time to go over their own work and find ways to improve it.
So what does that mean for you as an aspiring writer? Answer: you need to learn how to self-edit your own writing!
This checklist of tips will help you self-edit your work before you send it to beta readers or peers in workshop, and definitely before you send your manuscript out for publication.
You can get started now, wherever you are in the writing process, and see fast results from these simple edits that will encourage your readers to keep reading.
Run a spell check before you send your manuscript to anyone
This is a no-brainer, right? Not so fast. For the same reason teachers quiz students on what is in the syllabus, we are reminding you up front to run a simple spell check. Sometimes we're too close to our own work to catch simple spelling or grammar mistakes, so taking a few extra moments to look up the correct spelling for a word or the correct use of a particular grammar rule will pay off in the end.
Take care of basic grammar and spelling errors with a print copy
It's easy to miss basic grammar and spelling errors on a computer screen, especially if you are looking at your work on a daily basis and your brain is glossing over glaring errors.
When you print out your work, your eyes will be taking in the errors in a different way than they do when you view them on a screen, and you'll be able to catch these mistakes more easily when reading your printed manuscript.
Read your work out loud to find any awkward wording or sentences.
Go the extra mile: one of the best ways to catch awkward sentences or word choice in your writing is to read it out loud to yourself.
While you are reading, try to imagine how it will sound to another person reading it and see if there are any parts that sound awkward to you (this is where Elmore Leonard's advice really comes in handy). If you find a sentence that doesn't sound quite right, try re-wording the sentence to see if you can find a better way to express yourself.
Once you've read through each paragraph out loud, you'll be able to identify weak wording and find places in your writing that are missing sentences that would help clarify the paragraph.
After all, part of editing is not just looking for errors, but refining, and in some cases, excavating, your voice!
Ask a trusted reader to provide feedback on your writing.
It is important to find a trusted reader who can provide feedback on your writing and let you know where you need to improve. If you have a friend or family member who is willing to read your work, that is great. But if you don't have anyone you can ask, there are other ways to find a reader.
Whatever way you find a reader to provide feedback on your writing, make sure it is someone who will be honest with you about your mistakes.
You want to respect their time and attention by making sure the work is as polished as possible before you send it to a reader for feedback. And, you want to make sure they understand what you are trying to say in your writing before they can provide helpful feedback on how to improve it.
Use vocabulary that is easy to understand when describing actions or movements.
Always make sure you are using the correct words to describe what you are doing. While you can use technical or industry-specific words in your writing, you don't want to use them when you are describing physical movements or actions that people can easily relate to.
The Bottom Line
Editing your own work can be a challenging task, but it is essential to producing polished writing. The best way to tackle this process is to use a checklist of common editing mistakes. To ensure your work is ready to publish, you should run a spell check, double-check your grammar, and ask a trusted reader to review your writing.
By taking the time to self-edit your own writing, you will produce polished, professional manuscripts and set yourself up for publishing success.