Is it possible to edit your own writing brilliantly? If you're trying to learn how to edit your own writing, then that's a question you might be asking yourself.
You're biased. You're editing words you've read many times before. And you're deleting paragraphs you once crafted to perfection. Can you do an adequate job of editing when you've such a vested interest in the work?
The answer, of course, is yes. All authors edit their own work, it's a vital part of the writing process.
“It is perfectly okay to write garbage - as long as you edit brilliantly” ‐ C. J. Cherryh
Whilst it's possible to effectively edit your own work, it's difficult. If you have the right blend of patience and ruthlessness, you can do an outstanding job of editing.
One of my lecturers at university told me to take a red pen to everything I write. Crossing out every word or sentence that isn't progressing the story or a character. (With the aim of removing up to 50% of what you've written.) I'm not saying that the art of editing is quite that simple, but it's a good place to begin.
“Self-editing a novel is like trying to put pants on a cat: yes, it's painful and time-consuming, but in the end, satisfying.” ‐ Robert Jack
1) Read Your Writing Out Loud
Writing can be a lonely, quiet task, but when it comes to editing it's wise to make some noise.
Sentences might work in your head, but once you read them out loud you notice that you stumble over a word or two. It will amaze you how many sentences or passages you discover need some work when you try this.
Stand in front of a mirror, chin up, head back, and read. Have your work printed, and read from it. Highlight sections that need editing and come back to them.
Don't find an issue, fix it, and then get back to reading. Just make a note of what you need to re-write once you've finished this exercise. Even better; don't even make notes. Buy a dictaphone (they're pretty reasonable on Amazon). And make the edits when you listen back to your recording.
Full disclosure: there is no need to buy a dictaphone. Your mobile phone most probably has a voice recording feature built in. I just think they're kinda cool; they make me feel like a detective or something.
2) Edit From a Printed Manuscript
The first time you edit your work, you don't want to print it out. Editing isn't something you do once. You'll edit, re-edit, re-re-edit, re-re-re-edit... you get the picture.
Printing your manuscript every time will result in a gross waste of paper. (And an unwanted expense.)
Most people find editing to be easier on printed paper. You can do a lot on screen, but you seem to notice more when it's printed. So at least once, preferably twice, print out your entire manuscript. Then lock yourself in a quiet room and edit!
3) Don't Edit in a Logical Order
It seems odd to recommend doing something that isn't logical. But if you edit out of order, you'll find that you notice more.
If you edit your manuscript from start to finish, you'll get caught up in the story. It's more difficult to notice complex sentences or poorly written paragraphs that way.
4) How to edit your own writing with Hemingway
Have you heard of Hemingway App? (I wrote this article using it.)
Simply put; it's ingenious. It spots words that can you should omit. It identifies excessive use of the passive voice. And it highlights sentences that are difficult to read.
It's ingenious, but it's not perfect. You don't have to make every change it suggests.
You can also write in the Hemingway app. Change the setting to 'write' instead of 'edit' and it won't distract you with suggestions until you change back.
5) Make Sure Your First Draft is Your First Draft
The subtitle of this section makes very little sense. So let me explain.
You don't want to write a chapter, then edit it. Then write your second chapter, then edit that. You want your entire first draft complete before you even think about editing. This approach simplifies the process of editing and helps avoid writer's block. (You want as few roadblocks as possible when writing. Just get it all out there, onto paper or screen, then worry about editing.)
Separate your creative, free-flowing, writing brain and your critical, ruthless editing one. (This is why it's also a good idea to leave a few days between finishing your first draft and editing.)
6) Ask a Friend to Edit For You
A fresh pair of eyes will always find things you miss. And will provide some new ideas, too. This doesn't really fall under us helping you learn how to edit your own writing, but it does help get it done!
Writing is usually a solo act, but that doesn't mean you can't ever ask for help. Or work in a team. A new reader is also likely to pick up on continuity errors, and plot holes. You've been so deep in your writing for so long that you might miss these things.
If you are going to ask a friend to help you edit, here are a few things to remember:
1) Don't give them your first draft - it's not fair. Edit yourself a couple of times before asking for help.
2) Don't let them make irreversible changes. Make sure they are editing a separate document. You might not agree with everything they change - which is fine. But you don't want to spend hours figuring out what they changed and what they didn't.
3) Don't leave it all to them. It's wonderful that they're helping, but it's your work. You need to edit it too. (I know it's not fun, but it's vital.)
4) Friends and family aren't necessarily the best people to ask. They might be! But they might not be, too. Whoever you ask you need to make sure that they're going to be critical, and honest. For example, I can't ask my dad to edit anything I write. He just tells me how much he loves my writing. Bless him. The point is, that parents and friends often edit with rose-tinted glasses. So choose your help wisely.
5) Ask them if they liked it. What did they like? What didn't they like? Don't just ask them to edit sentences to make the wording easier to read. Get some feedback.
7) Get Professional Help
There are no two ways around it. It's difficult to edit your own work. And friends and family may not be as honest as you'd like. Not to mention the fact that they're possibly doing this for the first time
Professional editors are, well, professionals. They will edit your work better than your friends and family. And they'll have tips and ideas that you wouldn't have yourself.
You should still edit your work yourself. But once you get it to a point where you think you're done, give it to a professional. The improvements they identify will astound you.
And if you've done the best editing you can do first, it shouldn't take them so long to edit. (So you shouldn't have to pay so much for the service.)
8) Make the Most Out of Spellcheck
I know that we're stepping into the realms of proofreading here, rather than editing. But, it's not a bad idea to edit and proofread at the same time.
Are you writing your manuscript by hand? Using a typewriter? No? Then you are likely to have access to a spellchecker.
Spellcheckers are not perfect, far from it! But they will find things you'll miss, so use them.
Most word processing software has spellcheckers built-in. But chances are, Grammarly is better. You can add Grammarly to Word, download it to your computer, or use it online. (It's also available as a Google Chrome plugin.)
The best thing about Grammarly is its outstanding spelling and grammar checking. The second best thing is that it's free! Or at least, there's a free version. The free version is brilliant, but the paid-for version is fantastic. If you're adamant that you don't want a professional to proof your work, then pay for the full version. If you're going to proof your work then get a professional to perfect it, the free version is adequate.
This is a great tool to help you learn how to edit your own writing.
9) Disable Spellcheck!
This may seem hypocritical following the last tip. But the worst thing you can do is rely on spellcheck.
It's not infallible. Nothing beats the human eye. So, edit with spellcheck, then disable it and edit again.
10) Isolate Sections
It is important to focus when you're editing or proofreading. Use pieces of paper to isolate paragraphs when you're editing. And use them to isolate vertical section when proofreading.
Read down the columns you isolate, this way you are more likely to spot spelling mistakes. You'll be seeing individual words rather than sentences.
Editing your own work is difficult. But it is possible. I would recommend the following as a pretty good structure to your editing:
1) Finish your first draft.
2) Take a few days away from it. Read a book, or catch up with friends.
3)Read through your work looking for complex sentences or paragraphs - correct them!
4) Print your manuscript.
5) Read through your manuscript looking for spelling and grammatical errors.
6) Ask a friend to edit and proofread your work for you.
7) Check your friend's suggestions, either implement them or ignore them!
8) Find professional editors and proofreaders to check your manuscript.
9) Read your manuscript again. This time for enjoyment. You worked hard on this book, enjoy it!
10) Congratulations. Your masterpiece is ready. Either get some copies printed or self-publish your book.
We have some talented editors and proofreaders at our disposal here at Book Printing UK. Find out more about what we have to offer.
If all else fails, remember these famous words: "Write drunk; edit sober" ‐ Ernest Hemingway
Hopefully, you should now have a starting point for how to edit your own writing, head over to our writing resources page for some great free downloads.