Self-editing your work is the writing equivalent of ensuring you are well groomed before you leave home!
See, I get it. When I write a social media post or a post like this one, I want to hit publish first and talk later—if you know what I mean. I hate fooling around with the grammar once I am done saying my say. The last thing I want to do is to check for typos. It is a bore! I know, right?
It is a necessary evil:
It is. There’s no getting away from the truth of that.
If you want people to pay attention to the ideas you present, if you want them to take you seriously, show that you respect their time and your own by presenting a well put together post.
Don’t convince yourself that an occasional error does not matter. It does. There’s never a time when they don’t. Here’s the thing with a few minor errors:
They distract your reader from your message. When you would rather have them nodding their head because they connect with your words and thoughts, you don’t want them to draw a sharp breath in and glare at an inadvertent typo. These errors dilute your point and often take your reader off to a tangent, your well-turned phrases forgotten.
Also, unless you are a robot, you probably wrote your (long) piece (or book) over many days. When you self-edit, you discover gaps in your thought process.
I’ve never fancied the thought of having half the bridge disappear from under my wheels as I careen along happily. The thought of tottering over the edge of torn metal and concrete before gracefully diving into the chilled water and breaking your car and neck—in that order—is dismaying. One would rather not go through it if one can help it.
For longer pieces like books, novels or novellas, you would ideally engage a professional. Ahem. I’m not really plugging myself here, you know.
Before you proceed with polishing your post though, it would be well to understand the challenges first. The biggest challenge is: one usually misses out on spotting one’s own typos and errors. Even if you re-read your post diligently—and that’s a big IF—you probably give it only a skimming glance. Even if you’re a better person than I am—as many are—your mind plays tricks on you and smoothly replaces the wrong word with the right one as you read. #TrueStory.
I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it. ~ Don Roff Click To Tweet
Apart from the use of the expletive in the quote above—which is not my personal style—the suggestion is bang-on. If you aren’t willing to be brutally frank with your own work, stop writing and turn to a more sedate hobby.
To circumvent this exasperating challenge, there are two tried and tested bits of advice by all the best writers:
- Write a piece and leave it alone for at least a week or two. Meanwhile, write other posts. When you return to the first post, you will approach it as someone else’s writing—and spot all the errors that you might have missed earlier.
- Read the post aloud. The mind may replace words as you read silently. It cannot do it when you’re reading aloud. Also, reading aloud will show you sentences which sound clunky, long-winded, or just wrong.
When you are ready to edit, here are the steps you can follow which will ensure that your article/ post meets with your personal standards of content quality and is consistent with your writing style:
The first round of editing is to make sure you structure the content in a logical flow, building one idea upon another.
Headers and lists give structure to non-fiction writing. If your post tells a story, does it follow an arc (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement)? How are its sequential, chronological and causal flows? Are there any gaps in the narrative—which appear because often one writes something and then either moves it to some other place or deletes it entirely?
Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings. ~ Stephen King Click To Tweet
A well-structured post or story also makes it essential to cut out the excess weight and make it trim. Anything that does not contribute to carrying the main idea forward needs to be killed ruthlessly. It might be a fine piece of writing that you are loath to part with. If so, copy it to another document and use it elsewhere. Don’t load your work with dead-weight that takes away from the sparkle of the idea by pushing it into irrelevant by-lanes, however winsome.
Once your structure is in place, you must focus on your style. Long-winded sentences, use of active or passive voice, instances of verbiage or filler words (like that, which and very), and the use of jargon, are all attention-worthy. Nothing is as exhausting as to read a complex, clunky sentence you’ve forgotten the beginning of by the time you reach the end. Edit your style and keep it simple. Your reader would appreciate the kindness.
In the second round of editing, you would look for consistency errors. These errors are often overlooked. In fact, many people believe that proof-reading their work is about all the world may expect of them. Once they are done with proof-reading, their editing is done.
A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. ~ Richard Bach Click To Tweet
The following inconsistencies will put a reader off as surely as a misused homophone. Whichever convention you use in your work, ensure that it is consistently followed. Don’t, for example, follow British spellings in one sentence and the American spelling in the next!
- Usage of contractions vs. no contractions
- Verb tenses in sentence-to-sentence
- Abbreviations (United States or US)
- Punctuation with abbreviations (USA or U.S.A.)
- British Spelling (colour) vs. American Spelling (color)
The good news is, you can consciously keep this in mind while writing. With time, these conventions will become a part of your writing style and you will automatically follow your preferences as you write. Autopilot!
The last step is to check your post for style and consistency to get the pesky, minor irritants out of the way. These include:
- Spelling errors: With spell-checkers built into the word-processors, spelling checks are nearly all taken of—or so we think. The spellings we need to check are typos which are valid words themselves but are out of context. ME instead of BE, THE instead of THEY and so on.
- Punctuation errors: You would not only need to check the placement of the punctuation but also make sure they have the right spaces around them. The rule regarding spaces around punctuations designates no space before the punctuation and one space after it.
- Grammatical errors: Tenses are the most common grammatical trip-ups. Subject-verb agreement errors, homophones and wrongly used apostrophes are the most common grammatical errors.
The writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads. ~ Dr Seuss Click To Tweet
Chances are, you surely follow some of these steps and ignore the rest. Since the emphasis is always on polishing your writing, never on editing what you have churned out, you aren’t the only one who has been careless with reviewing your work. But that’s no reason you can’t do a better round of polishing now!
In the comments below, share the steps you follow to edit your work before you close your eyes, cross your fingers, and hit Publish!