5 tips on self-editing your writing

Like writing, how we approach the task of editing can be very individual. That said, I have found the following 5 strategies for self-editing to be very successful. Take a read. Hopefully they will help you too!

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Back in my teacher days, I remember a student saying, ‘You can’t edit your own work. You wrote it.’ Which, from a certain point of view, rings true. When you know what you are trying to say and know your own style, it is easy to gloss over typos, grammatical awkwardness and missing punctuation. Hiring an editor is a great way to get past these challenges, though outside of the scope for many new and part time writers. We can also approach friends or family for feedback, which is an excellent strategy. But we can’t expect someone else to do all the work for us, that’s unreasonable. Before we ask anyone else to review our writing we first need to get it to the highest standard we can through our own efforts.

So, how do you get the most our of your own editing process?

I have found the following 5 strategies for self-editing have really helped me. Take a read. Hopefully they will help you too!

1) Take a break

Take a break. It might seem simple, but trust me, it makes a difference. Once you have completed the piece of writing you are working on, no matter how long or short, leave it for a period of time and do something completely different. Go for a walk, try a new recipe, watch some easy TV. Get away from your work and use your mind in a completely different way.

This creates a separation between your work and your ideas. When you have just finished writing a piece, you still know what you were trying to say and you can often recall the phrases you thought you wrote. This closeness makes you likely to overlook mistakes in phrasing and grammar. If you take a break and disconnect from your writing you will come back to it not only refreshed, but also having created the space needed to read it more objectively. Your brain will be in editing mode, not recall mode.

So, how long should you take a break for? There is really no set amount of time, and I suspect it would be very personal anyway, but I would recommend at least a day. That said, if you are up against a deadline, even a couple of hours break for coffee and cake can make a huge difference.

Sub-tip: our brains are not linear, so it's highly possible that while you are taking your break you will be struck with a great idea for your work. Keep a note book, or note app close by, so you can jot down any inspiration that comes to you!

2) Read your work in order

This tip comes from the fact that all writing needs a clear and logical flow; you are taking your reader on a journey through your ideas. It is important as you read your work to ensure that you present details in a way that makes sense and gives your readers enough information any given time. So reading your from start to finish is essential.

Sub-tip: remember that your reader does not know what you do. It's important to try and imagine that you have never seen your words before, and consciously consider what another reader would know and when. This helps you to see whether you are giving enough detail, or not enough.

3) And then read your work out of order

I also recommend reading your work out of order. Pick paragraphs or chapters at random, read sections backwards, whatever comes to you.

There are two reasons for this:

Firstly, if you always read your work from start to finish, the start of your piece will always get more of your attention and focus. We are human, over time our attention will wane, we are always going to be more focused at the start of a task. By reading your work out of order you change which part gets most of your attention to detail.

Secondly, reading your work out of order makes you focus on the phrasing and grammar, rather than the story / idea flow. Reading in sequence is essential to go through the logic of your piece, but reading it out of order forces you to focus more on the expression use and punctuation, equally important elements of your writing.

4) Read your work at different times of the day and in different locations.

Our brains are creatures of habit, and like to take the path of least resistance. They also make solid associations between our environment and what we are doing. So, if you have a wonderful writing space, you may find your brain just wants to write, the creative side of the work, rather than settling down and doing the editing slog.

By changing it up and working in a different room, or with different light, you are signalling to your brain that you are performing a different task. This can help you to focus in the more structured way required for editing.

5) Read your work on different devices.

I found this one accidentally. I had placed my novel Widow's Lace on my husband’s kindle for him to read (to get some feedback) and I was checking that I had generated the file correctly. I sat in bed and began reading my story, I think I was feeling excited seeing it on a kindle! The change of screen, from my standard laptop to a kindle, shifted how I was looking at the words and phrases, and I found myself relating to the story as a reader, rather than a writer. I grabbed up my notebook and made notes as I went, then returned to my computer to make my edits.

Similar to the above tip of changing your environment to edit, changing the device shifted my headspace and enabled me to look at my work from a different perspective. You could try any device: a larger or smaller computer screen, mobile phone, tablet, or kindle.

So there you have it, 5 things that have helped me with my self-editing process. I hope you find something here useful for your writing. If something resonated with you, give it a try, and let me know how you go.

All the best and happy editing!