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What Writers Should Know about Self-Editing

Words on a page, waiting, not ready. But they could be with a little work. Self-editing will help you get there.

It all begins with an idea. One little idea that interests you, that you can share. And soon that idea snowballs into words on a page.

That idea is powerful. It’s a part of you, and something you are sharing with the world. It’s yours. And no matter how many others may think similarly, the way you present it is unique. 

As a writer in the 21st Century, you have the unique blessing of being able to go from concept (idea) to creation (writing) to publishing. This can happen in just minutes with your own blog, but really it should take a little longer than that — if you want to do it well. If you’re writing for others, it might take days or weeks or even months before it appears.

But there’s a crucial bit of time between when you finish that draft and when you move it to either being pitched or published. And that is the self-editing time.

The first draft is never the final draft, no matter how much you love it.

I am here to tell you that to create great writing, you will have to put in a little more time and effort. It’s not enough to come up with a great idea and write it down. You need to tweak and polish it a bit so it’s as perfect as you can make it — and the quality of your work will increase when you do this.

Sound annoying? Or hard? Or not as fun? Well, maybe these things are true. But if good writing was easy, we wouldn’t prize it so much.

Here are some techniques to help you along the way.

When you’re done, let it rest

I tell my writing students this a lot: You have to give yourself time away from a piece in order to edit it well. That means when you finish writing, you should move on to something else. It could be as simple as taking a walk. Or it could be a longer span of time — like days, even. When you return and read it again, it will be with fresh eyes.

Consider the possibilities

In a writing class I recently took, the instructor challenged us to rethink how we wrote things through a series of assignments. We struck the adjectives. Then we rethought verbs. And finally, we upped the details. These exercises weren’t intended to vilify adjectives or blacklist verbs. Instead, they were meant to push us forward toward the many possibilities of language. So I encourage writers to do this on their own when self-editing. How would a sentence look like you replaced an adjective and verb pair with a better verb? How would a paragraph sound if you simplified a lot? What would a passage convey if you invoked the five senses? Consider that in your writing.

Check your spelling and grammar

This couldn’t be more basic, and yet I find myself needing to remind people of it all the time: Check your spelling and grammar. Do it every time. Make it an essential to-do on your list. Whether it’s Grammarly or Word’s built-in tool, this will ensure you aren’t leaving accidental misspellings in your writing to trip up the reader.

Read it out loud

Speaking of tripping up the reader, you have a tool to combat that too. It comes in the form of reading it out loud. The “it” in this case is your writing. And vocalizing it will help you see where it needs to be trimmed or expanded, where you forgot a comma or had too many and where you could use better word choices. Importantly, it will also highlight for you any word errors that the spellcheck missed.

Did I miss a step of your own self-editing process? Share in the comments!

Published inThe BlogThe Writing Life

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