I’ve worked for years as a professional editor, for newspapers, a book publisher, and for various sites on the internet. You might think that would mean my blog posts and articles would always be error-free, but one of the little understood writing secrets is, it’s much more difficult to be your own editor than it is to edit someone else.
That’s because our brains know what we mean to say and can easily gloss over mistakes or omissions. We fill in the blanks without even noticing.
The key to editing yourself is to get space between your writing and editing, so you can read what’s actually there instead of what you intended.
Writing Secrets: How To Be Your Own Editor
1. Give it Time
How do you do that? The first thing you need to do is to give yourself time between writing and editing. I know when you have a deadline, or really want to get a post done, you might not have or want to take a lot of time before you start editing, but the more time you can give yourself the better.
Ideally, having a day, or at least overnight, between writing and editing, would be best. But even if you can only get an hour or two, that’s better than nothing. I use the Pomodoro Technique for time management, so sometimes if I have a really crazy deadline I’ll write in one pomodoro, do something else for a few more, then come back for editing.
When I’ve planned better (like for this article), I will wait until the next day at least before reading it over, which makes it easier to see what needs altering.
2. Print it Out, Read it Out
I don’t know why it is that you see different mistakes in print versus on the computer screen, but you do. Every time I edit a manuscript I see things on the screen I didn’t see on paper and vice versa.
So if you really want to catch mistakes, you’ll read your piece on screen and also print it out and read it out aloud to yourself (or to someone else, if you have a friendly ear nearby).
Hearing your words can separate you from your writing a bit, and it gives you the benefit of literally being able to hear if a sentence is constructed strangely, if you’re using a word too often, or if a sentence goes on too long and needs to be rewritten.
3. Try to Read Backward
Common self-editing advice is read your piece backward, from end to beginning (sometimes actually reading the sentences backward, too, but I’ve never been able to do that). I think this works because it’s another way of forcing you to think harder about what you’ve really written rather than what’s in your head.
It also helps you to see if you actually made the points you wanted to when you set out, and how the ending relates to the beginning, whether it is all tied together well or needs more work.
4. Read it Again, and Again
Once you’ve done all these different reads – on screen, on paper, out loud and backward – you’re probably getting pretty sick of your writing, right?
Read it through one last time. I like doing a final read out loud, though I tend to do it on screen. If you’re writing a blog post, read it in preview mode so that it looks like it will when it’s published. That makes it a little more real, and you know we all find the biggest mistakes after we hit publish, right?
Reading in preview also gives you a chance to make sure your formatting is consistent, pictures are in the right places, links go where they are supposed to, and all the other things that go into making a blog post look as good as it reads.
What’s your editing process like? If I’ve skipped a tip you love, let me know in the comments! I’d love to learn about your writing secrets.