self editing tips

Savvy Self Editing Tips When Writing

Ann O'Brien

Ann O'Brien

December 29, 2022

Writing your first draft is an accomplishment, but your work isn’t over. Whether you’ve written a blog post, an article, or a novel, your next step is to self edit your writing. Put your pen down, get your fingers off the keyboard, and take a deep breath. Self editing isn’t easy, but it’s a necessary step to perfect your writing. Our self editing tips will help you polish your manuscript so it’s ready to publish.

Self Editing Tips — Don’t Skip This Step

You may think you’re a good writer. You may even get regular praise for the quality of your writing. It doesn’t matter. Your first draft is never going to be as good as a draft that has been through a round or two of editing. Ideally, you can get an outside editor to tighten your prose and improve your structure. However, lack of a third-party editor doesn’t mean you can skip self editing. You can self edit writing, but it requires a new round of commitment and energy.

Look at it this way. We don’t have many opportunities to refine exactly what we want to say in our words and our own style. Consider the phone or in-person conversations you’ve had where you said something your regretted or phrased something badly. In life, you rarely get a chance to rephrase your words. With writing, you have that chance every time you sit down to work. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to express yourself fully. Self editing gives you that chance.

Self Editing Tips — Don’t Try to Edit While You Write

Do you automatically self edit your prose while you’re writing? That’s a bad habit. There’s a strong temptation to make changes as you write, but this will slow you down and disrupt your creative flow. During your first draft, your full concentration should be on getting your ideas down on paper — or on the screen. Don’t start rephrasing sentences while your words are on a roll.

Writing and editing are very different skills. Writing is creative and depends on a flow of inspired energy. Self editing, by contrast, is about precision and control. Writing is your artistic side, and editing is your nitpicking, perfectionist side. That’s why they can’t work together at this early stage. The two activities require different mindsets.

Writing and editing should happen in separate steps. As you write your first draft, it’s fine to make minor spelling or grammar corrections, but don’t get distracted by what seems like bad writing. Remind yourself that you’re going to edit this draft.

Get a Fresh Perspective

Completing a first draft can tap your mental energy. Once you’ve done it, a fresh perspective can make it self editing your writing easier. Here are some self editing tips to get a fresh perspective:

  • Walk away from it. You’ll get a break from your work and get some mental distance from it. You can take a 20-minute break, wait a few hours, or wait until the next day. Distance from your work will help you come back with renewed energy.
  • Read it out loud. One of the best ways to catch awkward phrasing or rambling sentences is to read your first draft out loud. This also helps you determine if you’ve used poor structure, overstuffed your sentences, or repeated the same words too often. You can use a text-to-speech program on your computer to do the reading for you.
  • Get it printed. Reading the same words on the printed page is like reading your draft for the first time. That’s why proofreaders often work from printed pages in addition to checking online pages. The printed page makes it easy to spot spelling mistakes, sentence fragments, and punctuation errors. Although editing involves more than just proofreading, proofreading is an important step in the self editing process.

Self Editing Tips — Watch for Common Writing Mistakes

When you begin self editing, start by looking for the most common mistakes. There are some mistakes that plague most writers. Besides these, you may have your own personal demons that crop up every time in your writing. As you go through your writing, be on the alert for these. Here are some self editing tips to watch with your writing:

  • Overuse of jargon. Don’t let too much jargon or “business language” creep into your writing. That means words or phrases that sound like they came from a business book or a corporate team-building event. We get used to hearing and reading these terms every day, but they make your writing look clunky. Seek out and destroy these words while you edit. If you are writing for a specific audience, your writing may have words that are specific to their business or profession. In that case, you can leave the words in since you’re writing for an audience that uses and understands them. If you’re writing for a general audience, define the words, or leave them out.
  • Cliches. If you’re making frequent references to the bottom line or a perfect storm, you’re heading into cliché territory. Cliches are phrases and analogies that may have been colorful at one time but have lost their flavor from overuse. In the same vein, don’t rely too much on current slang. It may make your writing seem hip and modern, but it can also make it dated. Use slang as an occasional touch to liven up your writing, but don’t sound like you’re writing for teenagers—unless you are.
  • Unnecessary additives. If your prose has many instances of words like “very,” “really,” or “to be sure,” ask yourself if they are doing anything to enhance your writing. Do they serve any actual purpose? What is the difference between “very happy,” for instance, and “happy?” Go through each instance of these additive words, and figure out if they really help convey your message.
  • Passive sentences. The passive voice is another business-speak favorite. Phrases like “mistakes were made” or “bombs were dropped” sound like you’re trying to hide the truth about what happened. Who, precisely, made the mistake or dropped the bombs? Be careful when doing this. Using the passive voice can make your prose sound weak and uncertain. Some authors or editors think every instance of a passive construction should be eliminated. However, there are times when it works well and is the best way to craft a sentence. You can make that determination as you edit.
  • Identify your weak spots. Every writer tends to make the same mistakes every time they write. As you self edit your writing, be aware of yours. Some writers have a fondness for cliches, and others can’t get the basic rules of comma usage down. As you continue to edit yourself, you’ll become aware of these recurring weaknesses in your writing.

Find Helpful Resources

Don’t try self editing on your own. There are several online resources and apps that can automate some of the work for you. Here are some popular resources many writers use to help them avoid mistakes.

  • Printed guides. If you write for a particular audience, it is helpful to have a printed style manual on hand. If you write for a general audience or a news outlet, use the Associated Press (AP) style book. Fiction writers usually use the Chicago Manual of Style. Scientific, literary, and legal journals have specific manuals they use. Keeping the guide on your desk will ensure you follow the rules for that publication.
  • Online writing and editing aids. Grammarly and ProWritingAid are well-known online resources that will correct grammar and spelling, but that’s not all they do. Grammarly also offers help with the tone of your writing, and ProWritingAid helps correct the passive voice and poor structure. Check out both free versions before choosing a paid one. Other resources include the Hemingway app, which tightens your prose and monitors the use of passive voice, and Slick Write, an online grammar and spelling checker. PaperRater is a free online proofreader and plagiarism checker that also corrects syntax and text structure.

Self Editing Tips — Take a Final Look

You’ve done it. You have a polished second draft that’s free from errors and awkward phrasing. Step away from your work again, and then give it another look. If your finished work is short, you may be done at this point. If it’s longer, however, you may need to get ready for another round of self editing. Once you have a final version, you are ready to post it or get it printed.

Get Ready to Print It

We hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for self editing your writing. At Publishing Xpress, we work with all types of writers who want to look good in print. We offer affordable rates and outstanding customer service. We offer tons of options for all types of different books, including four different binding styles — perfect bound, plastic coil, saddle stitch, and wire-o. Check out our online pricing calculators for an estimate today. If you have any questions, be sure to contact us. We would love to help you make your dream book a reality.

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