We all need other eyes on our work, no matter how long we’ve been reading, writing or editing. Fellow readers, writers and editors offer us insights we may not have realized; they catch errors we might not have caught; they ask questions about things to which we may have made assumptions when we’re too close to our own work.
No matter how long any author has been writing and publishing, they’ll seldom let a passage pass without running it by favorite editors and readers.
But sometimes it happens; we’re forced to self-edit, usually because of a time crunch for a post or article or critique submission to a contest or conference (and we know there are plenty of those coming up this fall!)
When it happens to you, have these helpful hints nearby:
- If you have the luxury of time, get some distance from the work. Approaching your words with fresh eyes will always offer a clearer perspective. If you can’t give it a few weeks, give it a few days. If you don’t have a few days, even a few hours away can help.
- Don’t trust spell-checkers! These are great tools for a first pass, but they won’t catch many errors, such as when a missing letter in a word changes it to another word or meaning.
- PRINT your work and proof it on paper. We’re not sure why this works, but it does — perhaps because we’re getting a fresh look and can approach it more objectively than something we’ve stared at on-screen for days?
- Read your piece out loud — slowly. This will quickly let you see words that may be missing as well as echos in the text and/or awkward sentence structure.
- Still nervous about a dreaded typo? Use an old proofreader trick: Read the work backwards. Yes, it takes some discipline and it won’t serve for themes and sentence structure, but it’s definitely easier to see a mistake when your brain isn’t already assuming the rest of the sentence!
- Check your entry point. Typically a written piece, whether article, essay or even a book, begins softly as the writer works his or her way into the story. Writers are often surprised to discover that the work would stand on its own better if they lost the first line, lines, paragraph or even pages. See how far down you can begin reading and get the same or greater impact from your words.
- Kill the “ly” words. We all use them, and all too often. Feel free to use them while you write away, but always with the intention of removing as many as possible as you go back through the work. Most writers will kill at least a dozen a page!
- Ditto multiple adjectives. Less is more and if words can be removed to tighten the text, axe ’em!
- Finally, eliminate clichés. Let your work be original; find a way to restate a common thought in a new way!
Looking for a professional editor? We list some on our site — CLICK HERE for resources.