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Writing Advice: 8 Self-editing Techniques to Cut Your Editing Time in Half

head and shoulders pic of Lesley Milliman

ProWritingAid’s Lesley Milliman shares her to tips on better, faster, self-editing

Joyous as it may be to type “THE END” after your final chapter, it can feel as if the real work is only just about to begin: the onerous task of self-editing. This list of top tips from former teacher Hayley Milliman, now marketing associate at ProWritingAid, tell you how to reduce your time spent editing your book manuscript while making a better job of it, making the prospect of self-editing much less daunting.

 

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words. — Mark Twain

Writing efficiently can be a challenge when you are meeting a deadline. Follow these steps and achieve written success!

#1: Finish Your Work First

Editing is infinitely easier once you have words to work with. So write some words. Finish your copy before you go back and start tearing it apart. When you are working with a completed piece, you’ll be able to get a better sense of the whole picture and see which ideas connect and which don’t. You’ll also be able to track your grammar, spelling, and syntax errors better when you consider the completed product, rather than one that’s only half done.

#2: Take a Break

You have words on the page. They may not be polished, they may not be printable, but they’re on the page. What next? Put down your pen. Close your laptop. Pull the ribbon from your typewriter and walk away. There is no better editing tool than a fresh set of eyes. Even if you take a five-minute break to meditate or eat a banana, your writing will greatly improve when you return to it, having had a moment to breathe.

eggtimer image to demonstrate the time you'll save self-editing if you follow these top tips

These tips will help make self-editing better and faster for you – but don’t forget to also take time out

#3: Become a Reader

Read your words aloud. Don’t mumble them. Don’t skim them. Read them. Out loud. If you have a willing participant, have them listen. Brace yourself for criticism, and ask your listener if your words make sense. If no one is available to listen, or you’re just too shy, stand in front of a mirror and read your words slowly and clearly. Reading aloud helps you catch awkward sentence constructions and missed words much more easily.

#4: Find the Adjectives and Adverbs

Want to feel like a real editor? Go through your piece and take out all of the words that you deem unnecessary. Start with adjectives and adverbs. For adjectives, consider whether you’re saying the same thing twice (e.g. “She had dark, black hair.”) For adverbs, consider whether they’re needed at all.

#5: Scan For Repeats

Scan for any sentences that repeat an idea that was already written. Remove that sentence. Look for sentences that contain two of the same word or words with the same root, and remove those, too.

#6: Switch It Up

Change something about the formatting of the piece. Something as simple as altering the size of the font or the spacing of your paragraphs can help you see your work in a new light. Remember, it’s all about “fresh eyes” and tricking your brain into thinking it’s never seen this piece of writing before so that you can identify and eradicate the errors.

#7: Use an Online Self-Editing Tool

Online editors are designed to do what your brain simply can’t: analyze and find all the mistakes in your piece in a matter of seconds. Even better, a tool like ProWritingAid acts as both grammar checker and writing coach, identifying hundreds of different types of errors in your manuscript. You’ll save hours and hours by knowing exactly where to go within your piece to fix your work.

#8: Stop!

Enough already! Leave the piece alone. An over-edited piece is almost as bad as a piece that has not been edited at all.

Remember, Self-Editing Is Where The Sausage Gets Made!

Editing can, and should, be a joyous part of your writing process. After all, books are really written during the editing stage – that’s when you’ll be able to look at the work you’ve created and sharpen it into something fantastic.

Embrace the edit and use these tips to work smarter.

OVER TO YOU Feel free to add your favourite self-editing tips to Hayley’s excellent list!

#Indieauthors - check out these 8 top tips to help you self-edit faster and better - by @ProWritingAid's Hayley Millman #selfpub #ww #writing Click To Tweet

OTHER USEFUL POSTS ABOUT SELF-EDITING
From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

Writing: 7 Errors Your Grammar Checker is Missing

Writing: A Handy Checklist for Self-Editing to Make Your Self-published Book the Best It Can Be & Reduce Your Editor’s Bill

Writing: The Most Effective Way to Use Track Changes for Writing and Editing Books

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9 Responses to Writing Advice: 8 Self-editing Techniques to Cut Your Editing Time in Half

  1. Craig Warhurst July 21, 2018 at 9:01 pm #

    We are all different. You can reduce editing time by writing slower and editing as you go along. I think it was Oscar Wilde that told someone he’d spent a whole morning just adding a comma. “Is that all you did?” was the incredulous reply. “Oh no. I took it out again.”
    I can identify with that!

  2. June Frost July 16, 2018 at 9:36 pm #

    Great tips for anyone facing writing projects – academic or professional. Thank you for sharing this information!

  3. Jack Whalen July 12, 2018 at 9:31 am #

    I have been self-editing my manuscript for about a month using Grammarly which has done wonders for my book and my writing. My experience – I’ve found it slow going. It’s time well spent and I would recommend it, but it finds and suggests many changes some I have chosen to ignore, like slang and grammar that doesn’t sound fluid.

    My point is a software package is worth the money and saves rewrite time, but speeding up all the edit tasks – not so much.

  4. Nancy July 4, 2018 at 6:23 pm #

    I’ve found reading out loud (#3) to be really helpful. Not only does it help me catch elusive typos, but it allows me pinpoint the spots where certain words/sentences sound clunky or weird.

    I do think it’s smart to read slowly and expressively, as if you’re performing for an audience. But I think simply *imagining* an audience is good enough. I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable reading a first draft to a real person. (A later draft, sure, but not the first.) And reading in front of a mirror? That would just make me feel silly. Also, it would add a visual distraction when my intent is to focus on what I’m hearing.

    • Hayley Milliman July 12, 2018 at 7:04 pm #

      Definitely! I’ve found so many mistakes when re-reading my own work out loud.

  5. Kathy Steinemann July 4, 2018 at 2:02 pm #

    Re #5: Word frequency software works well as long as you configure it properly. Most of us have pet words, and we don’t realize how often we repeat them.

    • Hayley Milliman July 12, 2018 at 7:06 pm #

      Yes! It’s amazing how often I repeat words and phrases without intending to.

  6. Karen Myers July 4, 2018 at 1:53 pm #

    Or…

    As you are writing each day, go back and read the last chapter or two first, including yesterday’s production.

    That captures typos from the heat of the moment, infelicitous phrasing, clumsy rhythm, and so forth. Save you a lot of the “do it all at once when you’re finished” headache by making the completed manuscript a very near final version.

    Also…

    Read it out loud. Your ear (and brain) will catch errors that way that your eye skips over, especially because it slows you down from a reading trance.

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