How to Edit Effectively
Editing is a difficult skill to develop, especially if you’re a writer responsible for editing your own work. Although writing can (and should) be an enjoyable experience, it is also difficult, frustrating and agonising. Editing your own work can be the cause of this. However, it is important to remember that writing and editing are like two peas in a pod, they come in a complete package – one can’t work without the other. Some writers find they can edit just about anything but when it comes to editing their own work, everything stops.
Whether you find it difficult to edit your own work, or you need help spotting mistakes, below are my top tips to help you objectively improve and edit your own writing. Read on to find out more!
Finish Your Work
The first step to editing effectively is finishing your writing in the first place. The first draft does not have to be perfect – that’s the whole point of editing, to correct the mistakes. It’s pointless trying to edit your work if you have very little to edit.
It is also difficult to edit your work while you are writing it. Often, writers will write one paragraph and go back to edit it before proceeding. This technique, although a temptation, hinders the editing process and can often cause your work to become disjointed. It is difficult for anyone, no matter how good a writer, to write and edit at the same time. When you’re writing, focus on getting your ideas on the page and finishing the piece, there will be plenty of time to go back and edit it later. In fact, often you work turns out better for the additional focus you invest into editing at the end.
My advice would be to keep writing until you’ve finished a first draft; at this point, the editing process can begin.
Print Out Your Work
If you have the option, printing out your work can be helpful in the editing process. Viewing a printed version of your work can help you visualise it with a fresh pair of eyes. A hard copy also physically separates you from your work, allowing for objective editing to take place. Editing is not personal, it’s about improvement. To approach your own work critically, you need to simulate an ‘outsider’ perspective. Printing your copy should help you achieve this.
Read it Aloud
To assess the fluidity of your work and correct technicalities such as spelling, grammar and punctuation, reading aloud your work can help. The trick to reading aloud is to do it slowly. Speed reading through your work does not help the editing process, it only causes you to miss mistakes and publish an unfinished, unedited piece of writing. Reading aloud forces you to be aware of the words you are using and the effectiveness of the sentence structure. You will quickly start to notice speech rhythms and repetition. If you stumble over anything, the best rule of thumb is to change it.
Repetition can give the impression that you don’t really know what you are talking about and it can come across as unprofessional. Eliminate any repeated phrases or simply re-word them. Word repetition can slow down the reading process and distract your readers from the writing itself. So, get rid of them.
No, I don’t mean physical crutches, I mean figurative ones. One of the most common problems writers’ have is their reliance on certain words or turns of phrase. This reliance is referred to as a writer’s crutch. Most of the time, as a writer, you’re not even aware you are doing it. However, to make your writing stronger it is vital you identify the words and phrases that are your crutches to help you edit effectively. If you’re not sure which words or phrases you use as crutches, re-read through old articles and you will soon notice commonly used words. Tackling your crutches makes you a good writer and an even better editor.
Edit Your Headlines
Your headline is the most important aspect of your piece. It attracts readers to your article, highlights the subject matter and (hopefully) adds a sense of intrigue, encouraging them to click on it in the first place.
However, your headline can also let you down – especially if your subject matter is entirely unrelated. Your reader will constantly be asking themselves, consciously or not, whether your article is worth reading or whether they should simply move on. When editing your work, be thorough in checking that your headlines are informative, captivating and related to the subject matter.
Eliminate all unnecessary words. People don’t like reading waffle. When editing your work, be thorough and brutal. Every word that isn’t crucial to your piece needs to go. This can be much harder than it sounds, especially when editing your own work, as it is easy to believe that every precious word you have written is essential. But this is simply not the case, so get cutting!
Ask for Help
If you are finding the self-editing process too gruelling, ask somebody for help. It can sometimes be hard to admit, but staring at your work for too long can make it easy to miss inconsistencies and mistakes that others would instantly notice. A fresh, un-biased pair of eyes to read through your work can be a huge benefit. Whether you ask for help from a professional editor, a friend, family member or colleague, getting someone else to edit through your work is always helpful.
Take a Break
If you’re working to a deadline, taking a break isn’t always a possibility but a luxury. However, if you do have time to spare, I would strongly recommend putting some distance between yourself and your work. Go for lunch, take a stroll, or chat with a friend and don’t return to your work until you feel fully refreshed. By letting the editing process breathe, you can come back to your work having had some emotional distance and then be ruthless with your edits.
Good editing, like proficient writing, is an art form and can be a difficult skill to master. Editing takes time, practice and patience to develop. However, it is crucial to your audience that your writing reads well.
Whenever you become disheartened by the editing process, don’t worry, instead remember that it is making you a better writer! For more information, give the Bamboo Nine team a call today!