Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Sometimes we don’t have writer friends. Or, we don’t have the funds to seek out professional editors. Maybe we’re just plain shy. Whatever the case may be, there are ways to go about editing your own work, and to make it effective. It’s difficult to switch between your writing and editing hats, but there are ways to make it more manageable, and hopefully, enjoyable.
1. Break it down
When I edit my own work, I like to go word by word, sentence by sentence, then paragraph, then page, etc. I know, it sounds obsessive and slow. And it is, but this is what helps me most. Start small. Think of the words on the page like scrabble tiles. Slide them around. Change them out. Experiment. Each word should serve a purpose. And each word should be questioned. Afterall, this is your work, with your name attached to it. It’s easy to get bogged down, so it’s important edit within manageable frames.
Me, going over each word, deciding if I should keep them or not
Editing happens when you question the choices you made while you were writing. Editing is most effective when you can either justify a change to your content, or defend it. Just don’t question yourself to the point where you start to doubt yourself. Question your work and edit it to the point where it’s the best reflection of what you want to say, and you as a writer.
2. Read it all out loud
I cannot stress how important it is to read your work out loud. Everything I write and publish gets read out loud (I’m even reading this out loud). Reading out loud forces you to slow down and to focus on each word, making it much easier to catch small mistakes. This is also a great chance for you to practice some public speaking skills!
Me, doing a public reading in 2017
Reading out loud will also help you work out syntax and strange phrasing. If something doesn’t read well out loud, it most likely won’t read well on the page or screen either.
3. Use apps and websites
If you don’t have a friend or colleague to check your work, you’re not out of luck. In an increasingly digital age, there’s plenty of opportunity to check your work with online tools. Apps and software are getting smarter and smarter, so it may be a benefit to check some programs out.
The Hemingway Editor is great for when you’re struggling with syntax, as it highlights words, mostly distracting adverbs, that aren’t necessary in your sentences. The general rule of thumb is, the less words it takes to get your point across, the better.
The Hemingway Editor
Grammarly is a great spelling and grammar editor. Grammarly will check your writing across different platforms, like Gmail and Wordpress Blog Posts. And depending upon your writing, Grammarly offers different settings to judge against.
Check out more editing software and apps here.
4. Change it up
A lot of writers swear by changing the font, sizing, and spacing when they edit. There’s science behind this. Your brain, being as smart as it is, easily gets used to information. This makes it that much easier to skip over mistakes. By switching your format up, your brain can be “reintroduced” to your material, making editing more effective, and even sparking new ideas.
I write in Times New Roman, 12 pt. font. When I’m editing, and before competition, I double space my work. (If you’re submitting your work for publication, this is generally the industry standard for formatting).
Here’s an example:
With a quick glance, this paragraph might look fine.
After changing the format
A small mistake like “stared” vs. “starred” is easy to miss when you aren’t paying attention. But slowing down and changing the format can be a huge help.
5. Use Style Guides
The Chicago Manual of Style is used most often in fiction and non-fiction, and is the general standard of book publishing. Here's a quick guide.
AP Style is used in newswriting by journalists. Here's a quick guide.
Publications and companies generally adhere to these two style guidelines in their written content, or they have a unique guide of their own. All writers should have an understanding of, or be familiar with, these guidelines. Incorporating these style guides into your writing style will make your editing process that much easier. You’ll be doing half the editing work while you’re writing; and you won’t even notice it.
Here's my personal Chicago Manual of Style book
Remember, adhering to a style guide is important. As you develop your own writing style and voice, consistency is key. Having a clear list to stick to will make the editing process easier, and help your personal writing style.
6. Edit when you’re ready
Here’s a tip I try to live and write by: write tired, edit awake. Writing, generally, comes easiest when we’re not stressing about it. As long as your pen or your fingers are moving, and producing words, you're writing. Need help getting motivated? Here’s some tips to get you writing.
Editing is a much different beast than writing. It requires a lot of focus and dedication. Editing while you’re tired is ineffective, and you’re bound to both make and miss a lot of mistakes if you can’t concentrate. Edit your work when you know you can commit. If you want the best result, you need to put in your best effort.
Remember, you know yourself and your writing best. Why not be your own best editor? Editing shouldn’t be daunting. Stay committed. Make sure the writing you produce is the very best reflection of you!