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Writing can (and should!) be a creative, uplifting, enjoyable process. However, once the initial writing is complete, the next step is editing your draft. And figuring out how to edit your own writing is usually where the writing process becomes less “fun” and more—let’s be honest—agonizing.
How so? Overly critical authors will be convinced their well-written work is terrible. Meanwhile, overly confident writers will be certain even their least thought-out work is sheer perfection. So how can you effectively edit your own writing?
Here are seven tips to help you objectively improve and edit your own writing:
1. Write Yourself Notes Before You Edit Your Own Writing
Read your complete novel, poem, story, or essay—without editing. Write yourself notes about possible changes you might want to make so you don’t forget them. If you attempt to edit your work as you’re reading it, you’ll get caught up in rewriting and never move forward or see the piece as a whole.
2. Know Your Writing Weaknesses
You’re the only one living in your head, so that makes you the person most likely to catch mistakes specific to you as a writer. Keep a list of clichéd phrases, words you know you overuse, grammar mistakes you’re prone to making, and so forth. When you’re looking at a new piece you’ve written, be sure to check for these red flags.
3. Kill Your darlings, and Show No Mercy
Certain settings, play-on words, or characters that seemed like a great idea when you first started writing may not seem so perfect by the end. When in doubt—cut it out! Be honest with yourself, and don’t shy away from the “delete” key.
4. Go With Your Gut When Editing Your Own Writing
Everything about your finished work seems right… yet it still feels wrong. If you find yourself trying too hard to ignore the inkling that you need to change something, maybe it’s time to listen to your inner critic and take a second look at your work. Even if it means making major changes, trust your writer’s instinct.
5. Create Multiple Rounds of Editing
If the mere thought of editing your own writing makes your skin crawl, break down the editing into smaller, more manageable tasks. Then, in each round of editing, focus on a different aspect: One read-through can be just for punctuation, another can be dedicated to specific characters, and so on. This way, the editing will seem less overwhelming and more like a series of easily completed projects you can actually finish.
6. Put Aside Your Work
Sometimes you need to take a break from the process of editing. Step away from the keyboard, put your manuscript on a shelf, and walk away for a while. Don’t return to your self-editing until you feel refreshed and ready. This way, you can look at your work with a clear mind and clearer eyes.
7. Ask for Help
If none of these tactics works for you, you might want to call in reinforcements. Choose a trusted friend or mentor, and ask him or her to review your work for specific issues: spelling, grammar, continuity, etc. This will ensure you get a helping hand that’s not too heavy-handed. You don’t want outside editors making changes you’re not completely convinced need to occur. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your writing!
While the idea of editing your own writing may seem intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. Inside every writer beats the heart of a re-writer! By following these smart self-editing tips, you’ll be proofing and perfecting your writing like an industry expert. Happy writing!