"The waste basket is a writer's best friend."
--- Singer, Isaac Bashevis
Does this quote sound like you? Editing can be a chore for many writers. When you think of it logically you might even wonder if it is worth it at all. You spend weeks or months pouring your soul into your writing project. When you are finally done you start to read it through, and the moment of truth arrives.
Editing is a necessary skill for all writers to develop. Not to edit for others. But to make editing more comfortable and productive for you. After I finished up a book I labored over a few years ago. I was excited and relieved to have completed that project. Then I labored endlessly to get it as perfect as I could before I sent the final manuscript to the publisher. Or at least I thought I had edited it somewhat perfectly. : - ) Then came the dreaded corrections from my publisher's editor. My manuscript looked like a little bit of book hidden behind mounds of correction marks.
For a brief moment I wondered, is this really worth it? After a few moments to regroup, I regained my sanity and realized...yes it most definitely is. I became determined to find ways to help myself edit my own work. Not just to speed up the process, but to also take the personal pain out of it. Today when others chime in to help me even more, I am truly happy to have some final polishing help.
Here are a few editing tips I hope you will find helpful. Feel free to visit my forum and share your experiences with editing your own work.
Let's face reality first.
Something many writers don't understand for a while is that no matter how hard you edit your own work, there are still going to be mistakes. There are two reasons for this. First, our brains work in a way that actually hampers our self editing. When our mind reads something, it remembers a lot of it. So when we reread the same thing over and over again, we don't see mistakes other people who are reading our work for the first time, see right away.
A second reason it is hard to self edit is that the creative process of writing is a very different function in your mind than editing. It uses different skills and a different section in your mind. Yes, it is essential to learn the basic editing skills yourself. Just don't let unrealistic expectations get in your way. Do the best you can and then learn, learn, and learn some more when editors send it back to you. Remember, you are making a master piece for others to enjoy and love. So, take a deep breath in...and let's learn how to edit!
Take a Break.
After you finish a piece of writing, put it away for awhile. Change your focus to something completely different. For a book allow a few weeks to go by. For articles allow a few hours or days to set in.
By walking away from your writing for awhile you will gain a fresh insight as you begin to edit. Your mind will have cleared and you will see a lot more opportunities to polish your work. And polish we must if we are to give our readers the very best we can. I add this break time into my schedule for what ever writing project I am working on. This way I don't feel pressured to get it done quickly.
Edit for one item at a time
There are quite a few things you should be looking at when you are editing to improve your writing. I have found that doing a few different rounds of editing as I focus on one item at a time has helped me tremendously. I find more areas to enhance with each sweep. Plus, by doing one item at a time I can maintain my voice and the continuity of the project as I go. Thereby alleviating a lot of rewriting along the way.
Here is my top list of critical items to edit:
The best way I've found to edit for grammar is to find a good book that focuses on the particular type of nonfiction writing I am doing at the time. There are a lot of variations in publishing today. I personally make a list of the basics and check for each one. Here are some of my top grammar mishaps.
Verbs: check to make sure you are using action verbs. You want to make your writing as crisp as possible.
Adjectives: Try to rewrite and do without them by using more description. For example, if you use the phrase 'blue summer sky.' Rewrite this to tell of the feelings you had when you saw this blue summer sky, instead of just mentioning the blue sky itself.
Nouns: Use a thesaurus or synonym dictionary to find some more precise words.
Commas: Look up the correct usage for commas for your type of writing. If you are writing for a publisher be sure to check which style guide they use. Commas are one of my biggest issues. But, as I said above, I keep learning and my self editing keeps getting better.
Next you want to edit for words that have several different meanings. You also want to check a dictionary to be sure that the words you have chosen mean exactly what you want them to say. It is amazing how often you can look up a word you use all the time and find out it is not the correct word after all.
Okay you are well on your way to honing your craft of writing. But don't stop here. Grab a great editing or grammar book and learn some more!
Here a few editing books that I recommend:
Editing for Writers
Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (Quick & Dirty Tips)
The Elements of Style: 50th Anniversary Edition