Editing your own writing is a lot like cutting your own hair – do it right, and the results look like you trimmed each strand with care. Do it wrong, though, and it will look like you made the cuts with hedge trimmers.
Editing Your Own Writing in 11 Easy Steps
1. Wait a darn minute
Or better still, wait a darn day or two before making any significant cuts. When reading familiar material, your brain tends to skim the text and miss glaring tangles and snags. This can lead to mist errors, such as using the word “mist” instead of “missed.”
Waiting a short time before proofreading and editing can help you read the piece with a fresh perspective. The longer you wait between writing and reading, the more your brain will have to focus on the material.
2. Assess the tangled mess
Comb through the work quickly to determine if the piece needs shearing or just a little off the top. Don’t make any edits during this first run – the idea is to assess the piece as a whole, rather than focusing on every little out of place hair.
3. Print it out
Try editing on a printed copy. Editing the text on a different medium than the one you wrote on can help you proofread more carefully. Using the red pen to make proofreaders marks and draw smiley faces with curly hair is tons of fun too.
4. Do some word whacking
While long sentences may flow like Rapunzel’s braided tresses tumbling down the side of the tower, untrimmed sentences can leave your work looking like Sasquatch.
Delete excess words, such as “that” and “very.” Be succinct.
5. Chop out crutch words
Crutch words are awesome – they work awesomely when you need awesome words to describe something in an awesome way. The only problem is that awesome crutch words are only awesome the first few times your audience reads them, and then they aren’t awesome anymore.
A handful of online tools can check word frequency and help you identify those crutch words that you use most often.
6. Read it aloud
Reading material aloud forces you to slow down and really listen to the sounds and structures of the sentences you created. As a rule, place commas where you naturally pause your speech and put periods where you take a breath while reading. If it helps, twist your hair around your index finger as you read.
7. Kill your darlings
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” ~ Steven King
Other than sounding as if he prefers a machete to cut his hair, Mr. King makes a good point: Your favorite line or character may be a cowlick in an otherwise smooth piece of writing. If you can’t bear to kill your darlings with a pair of editorial scissors, snip them gently and save the trimmings in a separate folder.
8. Use all available spell checks and grammar checks
Microsoft Office’s Word comes with a spell check and grammar check, but there are free spell check and grammar check sites.
9. Don’t rely solely on spell checks and grammar checks
Keep in mind that spell check will not fined words witch are miss used butt spelled rite. Beware of unexpected whack jobs done by an autocorrect feature, or you might end up with a Mohawk instead of a mullet.
10. Keep it short and simple
Use Hemingway App and other tools to check readability. Many of these tools measure Flesch Reading Ease, which assigns a score of 0 to 100 to written passages, with texts scoring zero being the easiest to read and those scoring 100 being the most complex. Passages that score 70 to 80 are appropriate for 7th graders, which means the average adult with find it easy to read.
To simplify passages, keep sentences short and replace ostentatious words with simple ones. Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”
11. Comb through your work again
When done carelessly, massive editing can sometimes disrupt the natural flow of a piece. Read the work carefully after editing and watch out for chunks of missing or tangled words. Make sure the number of points in your how-to section matches up with the number of points promised in the header, for example.
12. Consult with editors and other writers
The writers and editors at WriterAccess have expertise in creating, reviewing and editing high quality content, so they may have other tips for editing your own work. Working with trusted writing and editing partners can help you grow long and luxurious new skills as a writer and editor.
Lynn H serves as webmaster, content curator, and editorial consultant to three cities in Illinois, a municipal library, police and fire departments, a local Habitat for Humanity, several historical societies and community groups. You can always count on Lynn to deliver professional, polished content that is relative to your industry.