Writing a rough manuscript or draft is often a solo endeavor. However, getting that draft into a polished piece ready for public distribution is a collaborative effort. Therefore, I do not recommend being both the author and sole editor on a writing project. However, sometimes it has to be done. Here are some basic tips that will help you edit your own writing. While it’s not easy, it’s possible.
1. Leave it.
- Once you are finished with the first draft, set down the pen or close the document for at least a week and forget about it during this time. The longer you can leave it be, the better. This exercise will help to give you a fresh set of eyes when you go back to edit the writing.
2. Use more than 1 round of editing.
- Good writing requires multiple rounds of editing. First, read through the document quickly. Along the way, resist the urge to edit, but you can fix a few small things or make quick notes if need be. Second, read the document again, but this time go slow and make any big changes to content, style, or structure. This is where you rewrite. And on the third round, fix all of the small spelling, grammar, copyediting mistakes.
3. Cut redundant words, sentences, and paragraphs.
- You must be vicious. Too much writing contains redundant phrases. Saying something several ways because it can be said several ways will not make the writing stronger, instead, it will distract from what is being said.
4. Invest lots of time in the first sentence, first paragraph, first page, first chapter, and last chapter.
- One of the techniques in speed reading is to read the Table of Contents, the chapter titles and subtitles, the first chapter, the first page of all subsequent chapters, and the last chapter. This is also the way that many readers decide if a book is worth reading. As a writer, dedicate the most editing time to these areas.
5. Use a software editor like Hemingway or Grammarly.
- Spellcheck has come a long way in recent years. Applications like Hemingway and Grammarly use clever algorithms and machine learning to polish writing. However, these applications are not the end-all-be-all. Rather, they are one tool in the writer’s quiver. Use them to find common mistakes and suggested clarifications.
After all of this, you still need an editor.
Even though self-editing can get you far, it is not a replacement for having another person read your writing. The more editors that you have, the better and tighter your writing will be. Some editors are good at the big picture, some are great with punctuation, and others will see patterns and ask questions that never crossed your mind.