How to Self Edit
There’s no substitute for a good editor. But even when you do hire someone to edit your words, you should still try to turn in as polished a piece as you can, for various reasons.
Firstly, self-editing will help you hone your skills as a writer. Secondly, turning in a polished piece will mean a lower editing fee. And finally, turning in a well-written piece may help you nurture a good relationship with your editor.
Here are some things you should know when you edit your own writing.
1. Write drafts
Learn to write rough drafts and get you thoughts out on paper (or screen) without much thought to editing first. This will ensure that you get all your good ideas out. The editing should come later.
2. Write more drafts
After writing your first draft, leave it for a few hours (or even a full day, if your deadline allows). Then, read through the piece and add anything you find is missing.
Move things around if needed, and cut anything that doesn’t flow with the piece and that doesn’t seem to fit or sound good. Even if you’ve written a genius sentence, cut it if it doesn’t flow with the piece.
3. Don’t be married to your words
Sometimes we writers have a bad habit of liking our words a little too much, and we hang on to them even when they don’t make sense/flow with a piece. I guarantee you, if you don’t cut those parts, your editor will.
If you’re particularly fond of something you’ve written, but it really doesn’t flow with the piece, cut it out of that piece and save it in a different document. You can always re-use those words elsewhere.
4. Edit for flow
After writing a couple of drafts, go over your piece again an ensure it flows well. How something should flow will depend on the type of writing that you do and on the audience as well. Even within blogs there will be different styles, so always check writers guidelines, and know your audience if you’re blogging on your own platform.
5. Edit for grammar
After ensuring the piece flows well, check over each sentence for grammar errors. This is the step where you check for verb agreement, unnecessary fragments, etc. If there is doubt about anything in the piece, search for answers about it.
Where you search for answers will depend on the publication, but style guides are always a good bet. If you don’t have access to the style guide or are looking for a quick answer, there are some reliable places online to check for grammar. Grammar Girl is one of my go-tos, as is Purdue Owl. A post will come soon with other resources.
6. Edit for spelling
Look for commonly misspelled words (why is misspell such a hard word to spell?), particularly ones that you know you usually have difficulty with. Always ensure you’re using spelling appropriate to the country for which you’re writing (for example, we use Canadian spelling on this site).
7. Edit for punctuation
Check for run-on sentences, over-use of exclamation marks, incorrect use of semicolons, incorrect use of dashes, etc. All of these are common errors for many writers. If you’re unsure about how a certain punctuation mark is used, this is the time to look it up. The Punctuation Guide is a great resource.
8. Check for typos
Look at each word to ensure there are no typos. During this phase you’re not concerned with grammar or flow; just how each word has been typed. Although you can do this quickly, it’s usually better to take your time. Your brain naturally reads words correctly even when those words are mispelled or have a typo, so it’s important to look at words individually.
9. Do one last look-over
If at all possible, leave your piece alone for at least 24 hours, if not more, before doing this final step.
When you read the same piece of writing over and over, you start missing things. It’s best to come back to it with fresh eyes so you can catch any previously missed errors.
Read the piece slowly and critically, and correct any other errors you find.
10. Get an editor.
I can’t emphasize this enough: get an editor. Even after self-editing, you still need an editor, for several reasons. The most obvious one is that it’ll improve your writing. If you can find an editor who also functions as a bit of a writing coach, you’ll be able to apply the lessons you learn to improve future pieces. You’ll also increase the likelihood that you’ll get published.
Good editors are not cheap. But that doesn’t mean that people just starting out can’t get a good editor. You can look for someone who’s willing to barter, for example.
The Bottom Line: Never turn in a rough draft, not even to an editor. Do some self-editing before sharing your writing with the world, and I guarantee that your writing will start improving.
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