Writing: Can You Self-Edit?

I don’t know about you, but when I read someone else’s writing, I nearly always find something to correct or suggest, from small typos to major sentence-rewrites. But when it comes to my own writing, I can put the dumbest things into writing and be completely blind to it! Again, from the smallest typos (I still mess up it’s and its when I’m not actively thinking about it) to the largest errors. (I once had to write a paper about artists’ manifestos and literally wrote “The communists wrote a manifesto, Karl Marx wrote a manifesto…” Yeah, I did.)

So, my question to you is, can you self-edit? I think it is the absolute hardest thing to do when it comes to writing. If you’re a long-time reader, you’ve probably found typos and errors in my writing, simply because I can’t self-edit. So, here are some things I’ve come to do when a project gets down to the nitty-gritty and really needs to be polished.

Find a writing buddy or willing proofreader –– This is usually my husband and he
usually doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. (Love you, hun.) He proofreads all of my syllabi and articles before they go out. And the things he finds! Woah. I sound a lot correcting-1870721_1280more intelligent after he’s given these things a read. So find someone who is willing to do that for you. You can find another writer and trade. With the internet, email, video calls, screen-sharing, and so on, you don’t need to be in the same region to do this. If you’ve connected with a like-minded person you get along with at a conference, build up a relationship and become writing buddies.

Read your writing out loud –– Nothing will bring your poor sentence structure to light than reading it out loud to your cat (or dog). For some reason, when you hear what you’ve written, it becomes a lot more obvious when you’ve written something a bit wonky. If you don’t have a buddy or your buddy isn’t available, give this technique a try. It works very well for me.

Do some reading –– This might sound strange, but they say the best writers are also avid readers. Reading someone else’s work gives your mind ideas on how to write sentences, how to string the words together in an elegant way, and gives your brain a break from “output” and instead engages in “input” while also engaging in the craft of wordsmithing.

Use some resources –– I have three books I couldn’t say enough about when it comes to
self-editing. When I’m not sure how to handle a writing situation these books come to my rescue:

  • Chicago Manual of Style (we’re on version 17 right now). I have the hardback but I also purchased the online subscription because you can do a quick search by topic online. However, I do like to browse the book as well. (I’m nerdy that way.)
  • Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, a nice quick read on usage and grammar which can really tighten up your writing.
  • Edit Yourself by Bruce Ross-Larson, which is similar to Strunk and White but gives some comparison examples along the lines of “if you wrote this, try this instead” all throughout the book. It also focuses on using more direct or clearer writing.

If you struggle with self-editing like I do, I hope you’ll give these things a try. Writing up what we’ve researched is such an important step. Don’t let the editing get in the way!

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