Let’s face it, editing your own writing is tough. Sure, you can organize all of your ideas onto the page. But editing, that’s another story. It seems that when we self-edit, there’s always something we miss. And that’s because seeing the flaws in our work isn’t always easy.
But we’re not just saying that — there’s actually some science behind the idea. Specifically, in relation to the transition from writing to editing. It’s all a matter of mental priority.
Writing is a high-level task, so it requires a lot of brain fuel. Because when you write, you’re actively generating new ideas and transitions with every word. But when you make the shift to editing, it’s a whole different ball game.
You’re scanning for errors in spelling and grammar while tightening up phrasing and thought structure. But the problem is, you’re treading familiar territory. So in response, your brain, knowing what to expect, starts playing tricks on you.
As you edit with pre-conditioned eyes, you easily miss a typo or overlook an awkward sentence. All because you’re caught up in the rhythm of your own writing.
But there are ways around this, habits you can form. Ones that make editing your own writing much easier.
And that’s what you came here for, so let’s get right into it.
8 Tips for editing your own writing
Separate writing from editing
You’ve heard it before. We even discussed it in our last writing tips post. But there’s a reason why this piece of advice keeps resurfacing: it’s effective.
Most people edit while they write — deleting a sentence here, rewriting a word there. Making all the changes necessary along the way to keep their writing as clear and concise as possible. But in reality, this practice more often works against us.
When we actively edit AND write, we break the flow of our thoughts, making it difficult to express them seamlessly. And often times, we may even forget what we planned to write next. Hence why it’s best to handle writing and editing separately.
Keep editing to an absolute minimum while writing out your initial ideas. Once you have everything together, then go back and revise. Break up your sentences, replace some words; anything necessary to improve clarity and readability.
Take a breather
Before you start editing, take some time away from your writing. Maybe an hour, maybe a few, sometimes a couple days for longer pieces. No matter the length of your break, the goal is to create some distance between you and your most recent train of thought. (You can even use the time away to learn how Google ranks the content on your website)
When you return, you’ll have a fresh mind and a sharp pair of eyes to revise with. An undeniable advantage that makes editing your own writing much easier.
Focus on content first
Instead of micro-editing each and every clause, focus on the big picture areas:
- Idea structure
- Missing information
- Excess words or sentences
Spend time cleaning up the writing as a whole. Focus on the content. Reorganize paragraphs, fill gaps in thought, and trim the fat. Ultimately, make sure that the writing is clear and well organized.
Then go back and polish sentence by sentence. You’ll notice that the workload is much easier to manage when distributed this way.
Use spellcheck. Don’t rely on it
As an editor, consider spellcheck a backup. Not a first line of defense, not a crutch, but solely a backup. Now, why are we asking you to treat spellcheck so harshly?
Most spellcheck technology just isn’t precise enough to catch every error. Whether it’s misspelled words, homophones or even false positives. So it’s your duty to keep a sharp eye.
Don’t misunderstand, we love spellcheck. It’s a wonderful, time-saving tool that’s changed the way we use technology for the better. But unfortunately, it can’t understand the message and intent behind a piece of writing at a human level. Meaning it can’t always suggest a better word or explain why that one sentence in your Introduction should be rewritten.
So in short, use spellcheck, but never rely on it.
Get a second reader/editor
Feedback is essential to improving your editing skills (or any skills at that). It’s also another tip we mentioned in a recent post.
By letting another reader edit your writing, you bring in a new perspective. A perspective different from your own. Perhaps your reader sees a better way to phrase your opening sentence. Or maybe they can trim down your closing paragraph to make it more impactful.
The point is, a second reader can offer fresh insight. Suggestions that expand your way of thinking, making it easier for you to hone your writing skills and uncover new areas of improvement.
Cut out the fluff and redundancy
“If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.” – Ernest Hemingway
If you can express a thought with fewer words, do so. Because concise writing is clear writing — it’s easier to understand.
Brevity helps maintain the impact of our words. It’s why we easily remember catch phrases and one-liners from our favorite songs. When we drone on and on with needless adjectives, metaphors, and conjunctions, our original point often loses steam. Which in most cases, results in weakening our writing rather than strengthening it.
So trim the fluff — the extra bits you don’t really need. Cut out any words that fail to clairify or enhance your message. If it’s redundant, awkward, or distracting, get rid of it.
Read aloud (and sometimes backward)
Reading your work aloud makes editing twice as easy. Because when you hear your words aloud, opportunities for improvement are magnified at the forefront.
You immediately hear what sounds good and what sounds clunky — something not easily accomplished through silent, internal reading. And with this ability, you can efficiently decide which words need to go, and which sections to focus on.
But if you want to take things a step further, try reading your writing backward. That’s right, from the last word to the first. It’s a common proofreading technique, and you might like how it works for you.
Get comfortable with editing your own work. Put the previous tips in action, and set aside time to regularly improve your editing skills. Because the more time you spend editing, the more effective you’ll become. All it takes is time and practice.