James Thurber is quoted as saying “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” But then what? Nobody, not even experienced writers get it right first time and so the next step after “just get it written”, is to go back, have a read and then think about what needs to be changed or improved. To get you started here are 7 quick tips on how to be your own editor.
Even if you plan to ask a friend or family member to review your work for you or if you are using a professional editor it is a good idea to be your own editor before you pass it on – if only to spare yourself the embarrassment of letting other people discover your typos, mis-spellings, incorrect grammar etc. etc..
You may think that you couldn’t possibly find any of the above errors in your writing but believe me you will. Even as I write this blog I am aware of mis-typed words (I type fast but very inaccurately) and so before I post it I will edit it a number of times. When I go back and read what I have written (in addition to correcting typos) I typically do some rearranging, cut out any redundant words and phrases (i.e. stuff that doesn’t add anything useful) and re-write any bits that sound clumsy or don’t read well.
Tip 1 Don’t edit while you are writing
The whole point of a first draft is to let your imagination and writing flow so don’t stop to edit while your are writing. If you worry too much about structure, grammar and spelling, you may leave out some really good ideas.
Tip 2 Let it sit before revising
Before you start to edit your work leave it for a few hours or even a few days and then re-read it. You will come back to it fresh and able to read it more objectively. You are also more likely to spot the odd typo or mis-spelling or any other structural or grammatical errors. You may also come up with some new ideas or find a better way of expressing yourself.
Tip 3 Print a copy of your work
If you have typed your draft, print a copy for editing – it is very hard to do on-screen editing. So, armed with a paper copy and a red pen (or whatever colour you choose), you are ready to start the editing process. You may think editing is less creative that writing (which is sort of true) but it can also be satisfying and rewarding to be your own editor and improve and fine tune your work.
Tip 4 Read it out loud
A good way to check whether your writing flows well and is well structured is to read it out loud. Reading out loud also gives you a sense of whether what you have written sounds like ‘you’ and whether it holds your interest. If you start to yawn, just think how your readers will feel.
Tip 5 Less is more
When you write a first draft you let your ideas flow unhindered but now you are editing it is time to start removing the waffle, the repetition, the dull and boring bits, the purple prose etc.. So, before you get down to the fine editing, look for the bits you want to remove (there’s not much point in editing the stuff you cut). Be ruthless – get rid of all unnecessary words, paragraphs, sentences – in fact anything that isn’t relevant to your story. Don’t leave in anything your reader would prefer to skip.
Tip 6 Don’t rely on a spell checker
Using the spell checker on your word processor is a good starting point because it will identify mis-spelled words but it cannot help you with words you have misused or words that sound the same but have different meanings; for example, ‘there’ and ‘their’, ‘to’ and ‘too’, ‘weather’ and ‘whether’ (these are known as homonyms or homophones). A spell checker may also have a problem with the correct use of apostrophes in words such as ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ and so don’t automatically take the spell checker’s recommendations. You could also try using one of the many free online spelling and grammar checkers but ultimately the most reliable form of editing is either done by you and/or by an independent proof reader or editor.
Tip 7 Be your own editor but know when to stop
There will come a time when you have to say enough is enough. No matter how much editing you do, your work will never be perfect (this is unachievable). So, recognise when it is time to stop the tweaking and fiddling and just get it out there. I doubt any reader will be as severe a critic as you.