Learning to edit your own writing is tough. After all, by the time you’re ready to submit writing to a publisher or a client, you’ve spent serious time creating it. You already know what it says.
That’s why writing teachers and coaches suggest such things as putting the piece away for at least 24 hours, hopefully more, so you can read it again with fresh eyes.
Another trick is to read it from the last word, backwards to the first. That seems to disrupt your understanding and memory of what comes next enough so you’re able to at least see typos and misspellings. Would they be the only errors any of us made! Backwards reading can be helpful, but it won’t catch errors in sentence structure, context and word choice.
How to edit your own writing
It only makes sense to put the writing away over night at least, longer if possible. This often means giving yourself a deadline that’s a day or two earlier than when the client or publisher expects the piece.
Reading backwards does work – although it’s not a method I use much. It’s boring, hard to do, and only picks up typos and misspellings. I want more from the editing than just that, even though that’s not a bad start.
I like the results I get when I put the writing away for a time. There is something about that ‘fresh eye’ business that seems to work.
The absolute best way to edit your own writing
The best way to edit y our own writing is really simple:
Read it out loud!
Yes, when you’re pretty well convinced the piece, which might be a page or a chapter or even a whole book, is finished or mostly so, read it out loud.
I like to print it out which allows me to make editing marks on paper. When I read out loud from the screen I tend to do the actual editing as I read in what become long pauses. That works, but I generally end up reading out loud again. Besides, it’s good to get away from the computer!
There is seems to be some science that sort of points this way. Nick Stockton’s What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos gives a totally cogent explanation of why typos slip by us.
My theory is that my ear picks up errors my eye refuses to see. It almost feels as if my eyes and fingers sometimes collude to make me think I know what I’m reading because I wrote it, but my ear will hear the error.
Learning to read out loud is difficult at first. I found it has to be out loud, in a conversational tone to catch the most errors. I felt incredibly stupid and kept looking out the window in case someone might hear me! It’s such an effective method, however, I no longer care if someone hears me and as I read along I feel smart for doing so.
I’ve also discovered that reading into a tape recorder and listening to it gives me two opportunities to hear and correct mistakes. It’s also been suggested this can work if you have someone read out loud to you.
Reading out loud to edit your writing works.
Give it a try and let us know what happens.
Write well and often,