How to Be a Good Editor For Your Own Writing

For the overwhelming majority of writers, editors are an absolute must, not a "nice-to-have". But what can you do when you can't afford one? After all, you can't afford to staff more than one person (yourself), and you're barely affording that! The solution is simple: become your own editor. Figuring out how to do that effectively is a bit more complicated than it sounds, though.

Take Time Off Before Editing

The value of editors comes from having an unbiased perspective from a person who's never seen that piece of writing before. When editing your own work, you can't exactly become an entirely different person, so do the next best thing: take time off before editing.

Do whatever you can, for however long you can afford to, before sitting down do edit. Do the dishes, watch a movie, read up on the history of trumpet making, anything. The more time away from your writing you spend, the closer to an unbiased perspective you can get on your work.

Edit Hardcopy

Before editing, consider printing out the entire thing, and go through it with a pencil (instead of a mouse) in hand. This will let you form a sort of detachment from the piece, the kind you won't get if you're editing in the same space that you wrote it in.

If you decide to forgo this advice, and edit your writing on the computer, at least heed the following:

Don't Make Changes as You Go

It's tempting to make changes right after you see an error, because why not? You're already there, reading it, and the keyboard is right in front of you, what could be bad about this?

The problem is that writing and editing are two different muscles you use. Consider the switching cost. If you stop editing, and start writing — racking your brain in an entirely different manner — the time you spent away from your writing has been totally wasted. You've become blind to your errors once again.

Instead of correcting-as-you-go, make notes on what needs to be changed. Take those notes into account later — when you're done editing.

Write it Again

Once you've gone through that editing pass, write it again, taking the notes you've made into account. If you can afford the time to do this, it will really make your writing shine.

When writing it a second time, make it shorter. If this is the second draft, there are definitely things you can throw out to the benefit of the piece. Here are some things to consider when rewriting:

  1. Aim for 2/3 length of the original piece. One third of your writing, if not more, is most assuredly superfluous.
  2. Condense your writing. If we're talking about a blog post, there are bound to be things that can be converted into bullet points. Readers want to see the useful information presented conveniently for their consumption. When you're eating out, you don't expect to have to do anything else with the dish before you eat it, correct? same principle applies here.
  3. Take care of repetitions. If you repeat information twice, make sure it's important enough to be said twice. You're not making a stronger point when repeating things. At best, you look like you have nothing to say. At worst, you look like a demagogue politician.

Go through this entire process, and repeat it several times if you have to. One of the benefits of editing your own work is having the luxury of taking the time to do it right. On the other hand, an editor with a strict deadline can help you be more productive. Read up on using the GTD method with Write! that will help you be productive in lieu of an editor breathing down your neck.