Editing your own work is difficult, but making it readable for your audience is super-important. If the reader doesn’t know what you’re saying, they won’t engage. Here are some quick tips and tricks to edit your work so your audience will love what you say. After many years working in Publishing, I can tell you that authors do not send in fully vetted or edited manuscripts. When we write, we’re very close to our work. That means sometimes we’ll miss mistakes that we might otherwise find in other people’s writing. The difference between a mediocre book and great ones comes down to the quality of the editing.
There is a reason traditional publishers have professional editors on staff to go through an author’s writing. They check for word overuse, ambiguous phrases, grammatical and spelling errors, and even typos. So, what’s a Self-Publishing Rebel to do?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s easy to edit your own work. Actually, it’s quite tricky. You may feel like skipping the editing process because it is not the most exciting part of the writing, or you might spend hours writing and rewriting.
Here are 7 Tips and Tricks for Editing Your Work like a Pro:
1 Write first. Edit later
Don’t stop to edit while you’re writing. If you stop, it also prevents the flow from your writing muse. It’s okay to correct a typo or restart a sentence, but if you find yourself rewriting whole sections while you’re writing, STOP! If you struggle to write without editing, take a few deep breaths as you begin the writing process and drop into liminal space, as if meditating.
2 Let your sacred words rest
Build-in extra time in your schedule, so you can let your work rest for a few hours or days before beginning the editing process. With shorter works like a blog post, a few hours to a day is plenty of time. If you’re writing a full book, let it rest for at least a week or two before editing. By letting your words rest, you make it easier to see your work with fresh eyes. You’ll come up with new ideas, see holes, and inconsistencies, and other big-picture issues.
3 Edit for content first
It’s in our nature to go right to polishing every word and sentence. If you cut out huge chunks of the material later, you’ve wasted valuable time. Start with the big-picture editing first. Start with chapters and sections that need to be cut out entirely or moved around for better flow. In this process, you’re looking for tangents to the main point and pieces that don’t flow together smoothly or need more of an explanation. Significant cuts, additions, and rewrites happen before digging into individual sentences and words.
4 Cut at least 10% of what you write
Words don’t bleed. Cut them! Once you’re happy with the structure and flow of your sacred work, it’s time to break out the red pen for cutting. Almost every writer I know over-writes. We use way more words than we need to get our point across. This weakens our position and the writing.
What is the word-count for your whole work? Now cut 10% of the words.
For example, if you’ve written an 800-word blog post, cut about 80 words. Keep a lookout for these items to cut:
Repeating the same point over and over. Your reader will get the point the first time.
Overused or tired words and phrases like “In my opinion…” or “I believe …,” “good,” “great,” or “interesting.” Explore other ways to say the same thing.
5 Use a third-party app
If you don’t have any other way, always run your work through a spell-checker. This could mean using the spell checker in your word processing software or using a third-party app like Grammarly. Don’t rely solely on the spell-checker to catch everything. Some errors slip through the cracks, like missing words and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently, like “your” and “you’re”). Other times, spell-check says words are incorrect when they are actually correct. You are your own best first editor. Don’t blindly follow every suggestion from a spell checker.
6 Read your work backward and out loud
It’s tough to proofread your own writing. We are so familiar and close to the words that mistakes slide right passed us. Try reading backward from the end of the piece. If it’s too awkward, then try reading slowly out loud. This slows your eyes down enough to catch errors.
7 Don’t get hung up on perfection
Finally, edit as best you can with the resources you have! If you over-analyze your writing, or rewrite whole sections and then put them back to the original, you’re done. Put your sacred words out into the world.
Most writers never feel entirely confident about their work. There is this nagging sense that it could be better, and maybe that’s so. However, perfection is an unattainable goal and a Gremlin to keep us from putting our vulnerable work out into the world. Make peace with good enough. As long as it is readable, a few imperfections will not make or break your words.
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