Four ways to edit your own work

For obvious reasons, we’re big fans of professional editing. It’s not just that it’s our livelihood–we really believe that it’s the best option for writers. A second set of eyes will always catch errors that you don’t. If you need something to be perfect, whether it’s a cover letter, a self-published novel, or an academic journal article, hiring a quality editor is the way to go.

But this doesn’t mean you’ll never edit your own work! Professional editing is most effective once you’ve already taken the initiative to get your story from the first to the second draft. However, taking that step to edit your own work is easier said than done! To help you out with this stage of the process, we’ve compiled our four more effective tips that we’ve used to edit our own work.

1. Let it sit.
If at all possible, wait at least a month to start editing your story (three months is better, but I understand that it’s hard to wait that long).During that interim time, work on something else; don’t so much as look at the piece you need to edit. After this gap period, you’ll return to your story with a fresh set of eyes and will be better able to see that some plot twists don’t work, you’ve misplaced about fifteen commas, and the supporting character you once thought was clever really doesn’t add much.

2. Map its logic.
After you’ve let your story or article sit, it’s time to carefully think through the plot (or structure, in the case of non-fiction). Create a chart that explains the logical flow: Event A leads to Event B which results in Event C. Where are the holes? What doesn’t make sense? Which events need a more compelling cause? Putting it on paper will help you catch areas where you’ve made too big of a jump. It’s good for your readers; it’s good for you.

3. Read out loud.
During my junior year of college, I was given the opportunity to study abroad for a term at Oxford University. Instead of taking the classroom-based courses that seemed traditional to me as a U.S. student, I got to taste the tutorial system. Once a week, I was given a subject by my professors (called “tutors”) to research. I spent the week in the Bodleian Library researching and writing a 10-12 page paper. At the end of the week, I met with my tutor and read the paper aloud (and defended it, if he or she chose to challenge my findings). Each and every week, I failed to read the entire paper out loud before the tutorial meeting; each and every week, I found embarrassing typos as I read out loud in front of my tutor. Life lesson: Reading your work out loud will help you catch mistakes. Do it before you’ve submitted your darling article/novel/letter. You will thank yourself.

4. Expand the margins.
When I’m editing something I’ve written, I will often change my margins drastically, sometimes expanding them up to four inches on one side (not the top or bottom). This shifts position of the words in relation to the page and in relation to the words in the lines above and below. When the layout of the text looks less familiar, your eyes are more likely to read every word, rather than skim. Changing the font size is an alternative that uses the same principle. This trick will help you catch surface-level errors that you might otherwise have missed because of your own familiarity with your work.

Do you use any of these tips? Which do you find most helpful? Tell us in the comments and on Facebook, and make sure to share with your friends!


Leave a Reply