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3 Secrets To Editing Your Own Writing

writing coach mentorGuest post by Mike Liechty

As a writer, I become too familiar with my style of writing and, as an editor, I become too familiar with the styles of writers who are my clients. With those familiarities comes a false sense of security, and with that false sense of security come overlooked mistakes.

I have found my brain often reads incorrect writing correctly – automatically filling in missing words, correcting typos and adjusting punctuation as I’m reading without me realizing it. How do you solve the problems of familiarity, security and automatic brain corrections? Shake things up by getting your brain unfamiliar with your writing style. You can do this by reading your sentences in reverse order, not using your spell-checker as a crutch and almost completely ignoring your grammar-checker. Here’s what I mean:

  1. Try reading your sentences in reverse order. Start at the bottom of your document and read your last sentence first, and work your way to the top. I have found this breaks up my comfort zone and gives my brain something fresh to read. Mistakes I blew right past during my first standard edit pop up – seemingly out of nowhere – leaving me to wonder “how did I miss that?” Also, reading in reverse order is a great way to make sure the flow of your paragraphs is correct and that you’re making your points in the proper order.
  2. Don’t use your spell-checker as a crutch. The spell-checker is a tool, not a substitute for using your eyes and reading your copy carefully. A spell-checker won’t catch misused homonyms or misused words spelled correctly.
  3. Ignore the grammar-checker. Most grammar-checking programs that come with computers are often incorrect and, therefore, nearly worthless. I can’t say the grammar-checker on my computer has never helped me, but it’s rare; and, most of the time it provides advice that is just flat-out incorrect.

We all have our self-editing routines, and we have them because they work (or did work). However, when others are regularly finding mistakes you didn’t catch in your writing, it’s time for a change – but it’s tough to break old habits isn’t it?

Try introducing one change every so often. Try reading in reverse order, or making your spell-check the first thing you do instead of the last, and then do it again after you have made changes.

Also, you could try adding a final checklist containing your most common errors. Whatever you decide, shaking up your routine should result in finding more errors in your work.

Mike Liechty is the owner of To All a Good Write, a freelance-editing business based in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He also has 25 years of journalism experience, the bulk of which was spent as a newspaper copy editor. His website is www.toallagoodwrite.com

How do you edit yourself?

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Noel

    That’s pretty interesting, I must try that. I think reading your document out loud is one of the best ways to catch errors, but this sounds pretty good too.

  • Well done. I never liked reading text backwards, word for word, but I like your method of reading text backwards, sentence by sentence.

    Forcing myself to read slower than normal helps me. I sound like a 2nd grade student as I read to myself, but that’s how I pick apart each word and find most of the errors on the first pass.

    • Shane, I’ve never liked reading backwards either, but word by word or sentence by sentence it works. I mostly have to read out loud to slow down… even then I have to listen to myself to get slow enough.

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