Tips for Editing Your Work

Sunday, December 02, 2012
Some of my editing tools.
Photo | Elizabeth King Humphrey
Even though you're a strong writer, everyone suggests hiring an editor. But why can't you edit the book yourself? I have a friend who expressed that very question. Trust me, I'm not against self-editing. But my friend was amazed after I described all that was involved in the editing I do, for an example, for client's memoir. One element she didn't think I would have been concerned with was fact-checking. But that's just one of the many things that should be considered in the editing phase.

What are some of the things you might need to keep in mind when you are self-editing a piece of writing?

  1. Give yourself distance. Finished the draft Tuesday morning and editing starts Tuesday afternoon? Not quite. Allow yourself some time between finishing a draft and starting the edit. Your fresh eyes will more readily catch any possible errors.
  2. Ask questions before you start. Are there areas that you noticed in your draft that think might need some extra help? A place where you want to make sure less is more? Make note of those places and try to answer those questions as you edit, taking particular care for the plot points you feel need additional focus.
  3.  Stay close to your dictionary. You may have seen the word accomodate a million times and think you know how to spell it. But watch out! There are dozens of words that we think we've spelled right, but we may have just accommodated ourselves to the wrong spelling.
  4. Style guides are your friend. If you wish to self-edit, you should have some understanding of how style can impact your edit. The different style books can be your guide in learning how to treat numbers and punctuation.
  5. Weaving the storyline. You may not outline your work as you go along, but when you self-edit, you should take some time to sketch out the structure of the story. This can help ensure continuity of the plot and strengthen your work as you review your draft.
What do you want to know about self-editing? I'll answer some questions in future posts, so ask away!

Elizabeth King Humphrey received a certificate in editing from the University of Chicago's Graham School. She lives, writes, and edits in coastal North Carolina.


Anonymous said...

It seems like the need for skilled self-editing is a must in today's publishing market. Long gone are the days when that is done for a writer. Great points.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Elizabeth--Editing is something we always need to get reminders about.

I especially like your tip about having questions before beginning the editing process. In my critique group I sometimes will jot down questions on the copies the WWWPs (Wild Women Wielding Pens) get...questions like "Does the language fit the era?" (if I'm writing a period piece) or "I like the beginning but I think it died in the middle. Am I right?" A focused editing is a good thing.

It's tedious, but I cannot get away from my habit of reading my writing aloud when I am editing. Otherwise, if I'm simply reading it silently to myself, my brain will slip in whatever is missing or will fix whatever mistake is there...but then the brain continues on and the mistake is not corrected.

And yes. In response to Julie Luek's comment--it's OUR writing, so we need to do everything we can to make it as perfect as we can before it goes to anyone else.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post, Elizabeth. You said you were taking questions, so I'm taking advantage of that! lol ;) Talk about giving yourself distance... I have a novel draft that I've done nothing with since 2005. I'm sure when I open it up I'm going to be flabbergasted by the horrendous grammar and punctuation issues. And I'm sure the voice will sound much different than I do now. Where would you recommend I start?

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