You’re all thinking it so I may as well come out and say it: I am terrible at editing my own work. I hate it. This is not to say that I am a terrible editor in general, I just have not practised enough patience or more often, found the time for editing my own work. I think many of you understand the efforts that go into researching and writing something from scratch. You put in all that time and effort and the last thing that you want to do at the end of it all is re-read it and fuss over it more, especially on a deadline. You also end up having a stupid amount of pride in your efforts and are reluctant to change that. But as many of you also know, editing is an essential step in the writing process and that editing can make or break a good piece of writing.
After putting in a bit of research myself I have compiled a list of things that you can try when you find yourself in an editing bind. Efforts, that I will also be taking myself:
1) Print it out
This may sound like a mega pain in the ass but it is an essential step. It is always better to have another person edit your work because they are able to bring in a new perspective however, this is not always possible. You need to try and recreate the fresh perspective a new set of eyes brings and printing out your work is one way of accomplishing that.
2) Use an app like Grammarly
Sure spell-check is great but it misses most grammatical issues. Grammarly is a free resource that catches what spell-check misses. It is a great way to speed up your editing process. Hey, you still need to use your eyes though! Don’t expect an app to be fool proof and make up for real formal editing.
3) Edit for content and structure first
If you hate editing as much as I do then you want it to be over as fast as possible. Don’t waste time perfecting your sentences and then end up chopping it off when you edit for content. Make your work concise first and then polish.
4) Take a break, if you have time
You are in a rush don’t bother with this and just skip to the next step. If you have planned things appropriately (which, in my case doesn’t happen all that often) and you are not in any immediate rush, this step can help you immensely. Like printing out your work, this step can help provide a fresh perspective on your piece as well as fresh eyes to catch things that you may have missed after focusing on your work for so long.
5) Read Aloud
If you do not have time to take a break from your work, this is a sufficient and effective method, especially for syntax. Speak naturally, then add or remove areas that don’t make senses to you and shorten sentences that you ramble in. Additionally, you can also try and envision that you are reading before your intended audience and imagine what their reactions might be to further help in being concise.
6) Be a Bastard
A fantastically edited piece usually has numerous bastard editors dissect it. When you are editing your own work, that bastard needs to be you. It might mean chopping away little parts of your soul while you do it but it will be worth it in the end. Who needs a soul anyway, right? Being ruthless in your own editing is by no means easy but it is a necessary evil.
Here are few things to consider when you’re being a bastard editor:
– Cut 10% of your words. As writer’s we are a bunch of blabber mouths and we can all benefit from being more concise. Don’t repeat yourself. For example, if you wrote 800 words, try cutting it back to 720.
– Cut back on adverbs. Anything that has a -ly at the end can be reduced. I am very guilty in having too many adverbs in my work. These words are excessive and can make you sound wishy-washy.
– Let it go. “Let it goooooo, let it goooooo!” Ha, any Frozen fans out there? No? Okay, well my mom thinks I’m funny. But in all seriousness, you have to stop editing eventually. Many of us writers aspire for perfection either out of compulsion or a deep-seated fear of rejection or criticism. Additionally, because we lose our souls to editing we get stuck in an endless dark hole of self-doubt and can’t seem to let a piece go when it needs to be. So put in the editing effort and walk away when it’s time and if you’re never sure when that is, go through you editing steps and then set a timer.