Editing your work is an important step in any writing process.
Whether you are just writing an email, finishing a novel or posting on social media, it is important to take a second or even third look at what you’ve written.
Taking a little extra time to review your writing can go a long way.
Here are 4 suggestions to help you edit your work and put your best foot forward!
1.) Take a break
After you finish your manuscript, paper, email etc., take a step (or many steps) away from your writing.
Reading and attempting to edit your work right after you finish is sadly inefficient.
Well, you already know what you are attempting to portray on the page.
Our brains are designed to take in a great deal of information. To prevent over-stimulus, our minds separate information that they deem important and unimportant.
So, our brains can (and usually do) gloss over small errors because we see what we meant, not necessarily what we wrote.
The amount of time that you take away from your work before editing is project-based.
If you do not have a deadline on your manuscript:
Enjoy your freedom!
Take a week or two off.
Binge watch a completely unrelated TV show.
But if you have a piece of writing with a harsher deadline, your “break-time” might need to be more short-lived.
Say if your paper is due tomorrow:
1 – maybe don’t wait so long to get cracking on the assignment next go-around.
2 – you probably don’t have the luxury of sleeping on it, so try working on another assignment for a few hours or relaxing over a cup of coffee.
The goal is to get your mind off of your writing!
With a little time, your brain will forget most of what it cataloged about your intentions for the project.
It is the closest thing to “getting a fresh pair of eyes” on your work that you can get on your own.
2.) Read your work out-loud
Languages at their origins are oral and auditory tools.
That means that you are more likely to catch mistakes and/or odd phrasings when you listen to something than when you read it.
This is not a fail-safe of course, listening to a work will not necessarily help you if you use the wrong form of their or have too many commas in your sentence.
But listening to your work can be a great way to help you edit the piece for style and clarity.
While most computers, tablets and phones have a text-to-speech function, I would not suggest using this to listen to your manuscript.
These functions tend to produce rigid and unnatural sounds that might distract you.
Disclaimer: this is a personal preference. If it works for you, fantastic!
You can also read out-loud to yourself.
If you don’t mind hearing your own voice, you can record yourself reading your piece and listen to your manuscript privately or on-the-go.
3.) Be on the look-out for “maybe/if words”
That is, words that you often second guess in your own writing.
Like whether (weather?) or not you should use lay or lie, affect or effect, bare or bear, who or whom etc..
The truth is, we all have our own “maybe/if words.”
As you write, you should try to keep note of the words you find yourself agonizing over every time you go to use them.
If the word perverse (showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable) always comes to mind when you mean to use the word pervasive (an unwelcome influence or physical effect that spreads widely throughout an area or a group of people), you should write these words down so that you can stay conscious of them.
Some writers have a notebook specifically dedicated to their “maybe/if” problem words.
Some writers highlight their “maybe/if” words in their manuscript to double-check later.
I prefer the almighty sticky-note.
But whichever method you choose, the more aware you are of your common mistakes, the less likely you are to duplicate them.
4.) Be wary of repetition
Let’s be real here, we all have our favorite words and phrases that we feel enhance our writing.
Unfortunately our favorite words can become crutch words.
You know them.
The words that we use 3 – 5 times a page . . .
All writers are guilty of this.
Sometimes we just really, really, really love certain words.
Unfortunately our readers might not feel the same way.
Reading “as gentle as a summer breeze” every time a character describes his lover’s voice quickly grows tedious.
Don’t bore your readers.
Don’t get predictable.
An easy way to catch yourself using your crutch words/phrases is by using the Ctrl + F (i.e Find) function.