Some Surprising Self-Editing Tips

This is #3 of a series of 5 posts with tips and tasks related to self-editing. See the links at the bottom of the post for other articles in this series.

Some Surprising Self-Editing Tips and Tricks:

The following self-editing tips and tricks might surprise you. Rather than a bunch of technical rules, these tips will really help you see your work with “fresh eyes” and objectivity.

  • Spelling and other checklists while writing: As you write, use a spelling checklist to jot down words you have problems with. When you’re ready to self-edit, use your software’s “find and replace” function to check all uses of each word. You can also make similar checklists for other problems you have, such as punctuation.
  • Detail checklists while writing: Also, as you write, jot down details for things like your character’s hair or eye colour, the layout of a room in the story, and other things that might come up again later in the story. When they do come up, you can quickly refer to your list so you are consistent in details. Keep the list handy when you self-edit, too.
  • Mix up your read-throughs: When you’ve finished the manuscript, read it through from beginning to end–then read it again, but this time from end to beginning, by chapters. Or, read the manuscript in sections (chapters, paragraphs), but out of sequence (order). You can even try scrolling backwards through the manuscript. Any of these methods will help make needed changes stand out.
  • Take a break before you self-edit: Put the manuscript aside for a few days. Then reread it with fresh eyes. Do you still think it is great, or do you now find that you need to make fixes?
  • Take regular breaks while self-editing: As you revise, set a timer for a limited time period (say 25 minutes), then take brain breaks of 5 to 10 minutes. Get up, move around, have a snack. Work in bite-size pieces. Focus on one chapter, section, or scene at a time.
  • Rest your eyes: Use a ruler, piece of cardboard, or another similar item as you read line by line, to avoid eye strain and avoid breaking concentration. Make a “frame” out of a piece of paper so you’re just looking at a line or two at a time. If you’re going to edit on a paper copy of the manuscript, consider using a light pastel coloured paper rather than white, to avoid glare. Likewise, on the computer, you could try covering the screen with a pale amber (or another pastel coloured) transparent sheet of plastic.
  • Make your manuscript look different: Change the spacing or margins. Print it out and read it as a hard copy (or if your first draft is handwritten, type it into your computer and read it there). Try changing the font and/or font size. To “revise” literally means “to see again.” Looking at your manuscript in different ways often makes errors stand out.
  • Know your form’s requirements: “Form” is the shape of your writing. Adjust your draft until it meets the requirements for your specific kind of writing—story, poem, play, essay (and their sub-types); as well as requirements for your specific genre.
  • Audience and purpose: As you make each round of improvements, again assess your writing to see if it still fits your audience (before you even start writing, be sure to jot down who your audience will be, and what they will be looking for). Also be sure it still fits your purpose (to entertain, as in narrative writing; to prove a point, as in persuasive writing; to explain, as in expository writing; to describe, as in descriptive writing). If you find you are getting off-track, carefully analyse where and how it is happening. If you realise you really do need to write for a different audience and/or purpose, you’ll need to do some major rewriting. If you are just getting off-track, find the parts that don’t fit, and delete or adjust them.
  • Revise global, then local: Start with the big ideas (structure, logic); then work on things like pace, style, tone, and parallelism; and finally, tweak sentences and word choice.
  • Here is a method for final proofreading:
    • First, check for errors in spelling, grammar, and usage–and anything that doesn’t make sense.
    • Then look for design issues like bad breaks, misalignments, and inconsistencies.
    • Finally, read the entire piece once more and make sure everything makes sense and looks good.
  • Multiple read-throughs for different issues: Read through your manuscript multiple times. Each time, look for different issues. Take time away from the manuscript after each stage, then come back to it with “fresh eyes.”
  • Proofreader’s marks and/or editing software: Learn to use proofreader’s marks (editor’s marks) for hard copy, and learn how to use the editing software on your computer.

If you want checklists of technical self-editing tips:

…then check out these other posts on this site:

What other tips do you have for self-editing?

Please add your tips in the comments below. Thank you!

The posts in this series, Self-Editing Tips and Tasks, include:

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