5 Tips to Self-Edit Your Work
While having an editor is absolutely essential for any writer, some people take this to mean that they don’t have to look at their own work at all.
Self proofreading is a skill that arguably all writers should have; though no one expects you to be an expert editor, basic proofreading not only makes life easier for your editor but also allows you to become a better writer yourself. Whether you pick up which words you have a problem with, bad habits in your writing or are even able to start recognising your strengths and weaknesses, you can take these skills with you for your next project.
Revising your own work allows you to deepen your own ideas, and can allow you to make the manuscript even better than you dreamed it would be.
But aren’t I paying an editor to edit my work?
Yes. Whether you’re paying for copyediting, proofreading or even a content editor, you are getting an expert to take your words and bring them to the next level. “Why should I have to proofread my essay or thesis?”, you might be asking. “If I’m paying for professional proofreading services and copyediting and the whole shebang, why should I have to do the edits on my book myself?”
You have a fair point. But consider this: editors, as much as we like to pretend, are not miracle workers. And, when it is time for an editor to get involved, they can spend their time focusing on how to make your work better, rather than trying to decipher what you’re even saying like you’re writing in Ancient Greek.
Give your work a good proofread yourself first. You’ll be surprised at the outcome.
Still, I know that proofreading and editing don’t come easily to everyone—it is an entirely different skill set, after all. That’s why I’ve compiled a few tips to help you improve your self-editing skills below.
1. Take a step back
Like all good things, writing takes time. Once you’re finally finished putting down that final word, resist the urge to jump right back into your work. You might think that you should edit while your ideas are still nice and fresh in your head, but it’s actually the opposite that will help you in the long run.
Take a break for a few days. Go outside and enjoy some fresh air, catch up with friends and family (they probably miss your face, what with you being at your desk all the time). Go on a Netflix binge, read a book or just take it easy and catch up on some sleep.
And, when you finally do return to your work, you’ll have fresh eyes and a fresh perspective that will help you to more easily pick out any errors or things that need a little more development.
(Don’t edit while you’re writing — it will only make it more difficult for you to get into the zone and get some actual words on the page. It will also limit any spontaneity or breakthroughs you may have in your writing. Get your thoughts down first in your initial draft and then go back with a more critical eye.)
2. Break it up a little
It helps to go through your work in stages: give the whole document a read through first, look at the overall structure, then start looking at the details — adverbs, overused words, spelling, and so on. Going through it line by line right off the bat can mean that you are focusing on everything; for an inexperienced editor, this can be overwhelming and you will often miss easy to spot mistakes.
Editing can be a long (and sometimes dull) process; if you break it up into smaller chunks, each with their own goal of things to look for, the work will go by a lot quicker.
3. Presentation is everything
Well, okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but the way that you format your work can be crucial for the editing process.
The presentation of your writing depends on the genre; if you’re working on a thesis, make sure you have chapters and subheadings to clearly delineate and distinguish your different ideas and topics. If you’re writing a novel, making sure that your writing is broken up into paragraphs, not huge chunks of text (it sounds simple, I know, but you would be surprised).
Some general guidelines are to double space your writing (or use 1.5 spacing, if you want to keep more words on a page) and to use a simple, clean 12pt font like Arial or Times New Roman. Page numbers are also recommended for easy navigation and communication during the editing process; if either you or your editor has a question about your manuscript, it’ll be a lot easier to point to a specific page rather than a general area.
4. Say it out loud
By this point in time, your eyes are accustomed to reading your work. They know what it says—or, at least, what it should say. Your ears are a little harder to fool.
By reading your work out loud, you can hear the mistakes more clearly; your brain will stop and tell you that something isn’t right. It also forces you to slow down a little and consider every word.
(Tip: To be even more effective, read in front of an audience! Even if it’s just a pet, and not someone who can provide you with feedback, you’ll feel more confident in your speaking and will catch more errors than if you were just muttering to yourself.)
Proofreading online using Word, Scrivener or any other writing software can be a bit tricky, and you may miss some things. Along with reading aloud, it can help to print out a few pages, or even to change the font size, colour or type to trick your brain into thinking you’re looking at something new.
5. Phone a friend
Now this one isn’t exactly ‘self-editing’ per se, but it is a beneficial step in the editing process. While you can (and should) inflict your work onto everyone you can — family, friends, etc. — what can really help you grow as a writer (and writer-editor) is a critique partner.
A critique partner can be a fantastic way to see if your work is, well, working or not. This is usually someone in the same area as yourself (note: they don’t have to write in the same style or areas; they just need to be familiar with your genre of writing).
For academics, fellow students can be fantastic partners. For fiction (and non-fiction) writers, a writing group can be a great way to find someone (or multiple people) that you really click with. Not only can they help you by telling you areas in your writing which need a little more work, but they can also be a great support during the process.
Hopefully, you can take advantage of one or more of these tips in your writing and become a better proofreader. If you want some more advice on self-editing and what comes next, feel free to reach out and have a chat!