How to edit your own writing

Tips for training your brain to give your own work a solid edit.

In a perfect world, you’ll always have a brilliant, detail-oriented, thoughtful editor who can dissect your work and give you quick, incisive feedback on every word you write.

In the real world, we’re often left scrambling to improve our own work and praying we catch all the stupid typos we’ve made.

When you, too, inevitably find yourself in this position, here are some simple tips for editing your own work.

Put it in a drawer.

Editing your own writing can feel like listening to your own voice on a tape recorder — it’s an awkward experience that makes many cringe. Because of this phenomenon, one of the very best self-editing techniques is to put as much distance between yourself and your work as you can.

When possible, try putting your work aside overnight before giving it a strong edit. By the time you return to  it, the words will feel less personal and more expendable.

But you don’t always have the luxury of being able to wait overnight. If that’s the case, step away from the work for as long as you can. Give yourself over a break over lunch or while you take a quick walk. Even a small distance from your work can help you see it with fresh eyes.

Change the format.

Rather than struggling to focus on your words in the same Word document with Calibri font, consider mixing things up. You may prefer to print out the item and go at it old school with a red pen. You can also swap the font up for something new – or get real daring and try a new color. Again, the idea is to help yourself see the words from a new perspective instead of just starting at  copy you’ve already spent hours laboring on.

Read it out loud.

When you re-read something you’ve already written, your brain thinks it already knows what’s in there. That means it’s easy to assume that what’s supposed to be there, like a missing conjunction, is actually on the page. To thwart your stupid brain, try reading the piece out loud. You’ll engage a different set of senses and spot omissions, or other mistakes, in a new way.

Some people also recommend editing your work backwards as an exercise to shake yourself out of complacency and make sure you’re seeing the words individually instead of what you expect to see. Try both and see what works best for you.

Give yourself grace.

Even the best, most observant editors miss things. In any given page of copy, there are thousands of possible mistakes to be made on everything from spelling to syntax, from punctuation to just bad writing.

No matter how carefully you edit yourself, you’re going to miss something. Accept it and forgive yourself in advance. Hope it isn’t on anything too important.

Remember: It’s always preferable to have a separate set of eyes on something. But when that isn’t an option, you can still give yourself the edit you deserve with these mind games.


6 Responses to “How to edit your own writing”

    Mary Leidig says:

    Thank you for this piece. I love it because it is a reality and a discipline we need as writers of any content and as marketers. Distance from my work (& yes, a lunch break works!), printing my work and reading aloud are amazing for me to find my errors. And I always make errors.

    After I edit my copy, I want a colleague to edit my work. Both are humbling and make me a better writer.

    Allison Carter says:

    Thanks Mary! And so true, having a second set of eyes is so valuable in many ways. Just wish we always had them!

    Jackie Zils says:

    The metaphor I didn’t know I needed: “Editing your own writing can feel like listening to your own voice on a tape recorder …” Absolutely right! Thanks for the tips, Allison.

    Stan Emoto says:

    Dear Allison,

    Thank you for the writing tips. It’s always good to be reminded about walking away from your writing so you can edit with a fresh set of eyes.


    Michelle says:

    I love the idea of changing the format, font, color of your words before proof reading. That’s something I had never thought of. Thanks!! Daily Headlines

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