One of the biggest challenges for any writer, outside of committing the work to paper or computer screen, is finalizing it. As self-publishing has gained popularity, the editor’s role has become essential.
Considering my experience as a writer and an editor, I find it can be incredibly challenging to fill these roles simultaneously. Moreover, it’s something I advise against. If you are going to self-publish, I highly recommend enlisting third-party help to edit and then proofread your work. (Again, these two functions should probably not be performed by the same person.)
Having an extra set (or two) of eyes on your work is a rule to live by, regardless of whether you are a would-be author, a business pro, or an academic submitting a thesis. Simply put, you are too close to your work to do it all.
Even with that disclaimer, there are ways to edit your own writing, if only to improve a draft while you bring another person into the fold. Some tips:
Fight the urge to edit while you are still writing. Do not rewrite or delete sentences or entire paragraphs on your first draft. If you must edit while you write, stick to correcting typos or figuring out a new way to start a sentence to avoid repetition.
Take a break when you are done writing. Much can be said about setting your work aside for a day or even three before you start revising it. Of course, this means budgeting extra time into your schedule (especially if you are on deadline). However, with fresh eyes you can identify holes or inconsistencies, as well as problems with flow or style.
Read the work in a different format. For a blog post, print it out or upload it to the preview area of your platform. For a manuscript, try converting the document to PDF and reading it on a tablet or e-reader. Doing so will help you see problems you missed when it was in its original format.
Structure and content editing come first. Many times a writer will begin editing by polishing individual sentences (line editing). When you do this, you avoid the big picture. Instead, consider whether there are parts that are too advanced for the piece or go off on a tangent, or perhaps there is a key element missing. Make the major changes before you begin line editing.
Realize you have to implement a chopping block. Most writers say too much; therefore, seek to trim your work by 10 percent. Look out for repetition and unnecessary phrases such as, “It’s my opinion.” Also, cut needless modifiers. For instance, “Sarah inquired softly” can be changed to, “Sarah whispered.”
Don’t rely too heavily on spell check. Yes, run your work through spell check, but don’t expect it will catch everything. A computer can’t tell the difference between homophones—words that are spelled differently but sound the same, such as which and witch.
Look out for words like effect vs. affect and there, their, and they’re (a pet peeve). Also realize that Word might come up with crazy suggestions about its and it’s.
Read aloud slowly. Even professional editors and proofreaders are not immune to mistakes. A handy trick is to read a later draft out loud and slowly. Adults’ brains read ahead and work faster than our eyes, so we don’t really read every word on a page. When you read aloud and process each word deliberately, you are more apt to pick up on mistakes, as well as awkward or repetitive words.
Case in point: I was working on a children’s book, and each page had maybe three or four lines of 20-point text. Even though I had read this book several hundred times, I’d never realized there was an extra word on one page until a 5-year-old, reading aloud, pointed it out to me. Talk about gems from the mouths of babes! So, when proofreading, read like a 5-year-old. I guarantee you will find mistakes.