How To Edit Your Own Work

Every author needs an editor. And I’m not saying that because I am one (okay, well maybe I am a little bit). But I truly believe that even those writers who are excellent grammarians (and spellers, punctuation people, etc.) still need to have their work edited. Why is that?

My very unscientific reasoning is that, for most of us, our brains think faster than our fingers can type. We know what we meant to say, but perhaps our fingers were flying across the keys, trying but failing to keep up with our brains. That’s the same reason why we sometimes type “there” when we meant to type “their.” Those errors are common when we are trying to get our thoughts out before they flitter away, or get buried by the hundred other things on our minds.

Another reason why authors often miss mistakes is because they are so caught up in the content. If you’re trying to make sure the story makes sense, you might not realize that a word is missing, or something is spelled incorrectly.

That being said, however, there are ways to edit your own work, which everyone should do even before they turn it over to a professional. I make these suggestions to authors and to students in my writing classes. Many have told me that they work.

  1. Read your work out loud. Even if you’re alone. You might think you sound silly, but you’ll notice missing words, commas that are missing or don’t belong, and other crazy errors when you are trying to read your work out loud so that it makes sense.
  2. Read your work backwards. Even sillier, I know. And obviously this won’t work for catching punctuation errors, but it’s a way to make sure that everything is spelled correctly.
  3. Read the chapters out of order. You’ll be much less inclined to focus on content if you’re not reading in order. The content won’t make any sense anyway, allowing you to focus on the mechanics.
  4. Walk away. If time permits (and try to plan your schedule so time does permit), put your work away for at least a few hours, even a day or two if possible. Your eyes and your mind will view the material much more freshly after a break.
  5. And finally, one big don’t: DO NOT rely on spell check, grammar check, or any other checking program. These programs are not infallible, particularly when it comes to things like homophones. I’m not suggesting you don’t use them at all, because they do serve a purpose. Just don’t rely on them to do your job for you.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to know how you edit your work. Share some of your self-editing tips with the rest of us.

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