Working smarter, not harder, every day

Self-edit your writing more efficiently

Editing is a process.

procrastinating bojack horseman GIFSpending as much time reviewing and editing as writing and rewriting is key to putting out good work. I can’t help you make your thoughts out any better, but I can pass some tips to help ensure you haven’t missed a comma or have accidentally a word when you self-edit.
Writing is iterative. Use the below tips as you make several drafts. Make sure to also switch up the order in which you make use of the tips. You won’t use the below suggestions in order and then–BAM–you’re done editing.
I make several stops at each point several times and in different orders when I’m doing some writing.  It’s also important to remember that we can’t draft and redraft forever. We must put our work out there for others. Part of the editing process is deciding when you’ve reached a good stopping point and your product is ready for the stage, or at least another set of eyes.

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Your goal is to spend as little time editing silly mistakes as possible. To put out great written work consistently, you must save more time for the creative process of writing. The essential keys are to be a fast typist, good with ctrl keystrokes and to carefully read every word on the page. At some point during your writing, spend time away from the piece so you can gain more insight and ideas. Then, you should get the help of word processors, dictation, and real human editors, experts, and friends to nit-pick your piece. Spend more time away from your piece. Come back. Redraft. Finally, give it a final review on paper and send it out if it’s up to par.
 
“The first draft of anything is shit.”
– Arnold Samuelson, quoting Ernest Hemingway (1984).

WORD PROCESSOR

Hilarious Kermit The Frog GIFUse whatever you want. The most important thing is that words get on the page. At a minimum, try and pick something that will pick out misspelled words.
 
Here are some options.
 
I do a lot of my writing on Evernote, then I move it to WordPress. On WordPress, I do more drafting, and a lot of editing. Later in the process I copy and paste from WordPress to spell-checkers such as Grammarly and Hemingway Editor to spot passive voice, adverbs, and overly-long sentences.

GETTING IT ALL OUT

Or get most of it out, at least.
 
The drafting process is different for all forms of writing. Good legal writing, for example, requires research, planning, and organization, usually before writing a single word. Some creative writers, similarly, spend a lot of time planning characters and storylines before they get started drafting any stories. Other creative writers, by contrast, require almost no preparation and strike when the iron’s hot to produce their writing.  Everyone is different. All forms of writing are different.
 
Whatever your writing process, I would suggest you try to get a semblance of a complete first draft before you go deep into grammatical/flow editing. The goal is to capture your thoughts as you had them, at that time, without significant edits before you have a final piece, excepting spelling and some really egregious errors.
 
Maybe you need each sentence, or each word, to be perfect before you move on and that would really annoy you otherwise. Go ahead and do how you do. You’ll get more out of editing, however, if you wear your writing and editing hats at different times, because the writing part of your brain does not work the same parts as the editing part of your brain.

TIME AWAY

When you can, get away from your rough draft for some time and come back to review with fresh eyes. Good writing is deliberate practice, and you need time away from whatever it is you practice.
The same text literally reads differently once you’ve spent some time away from it for a little. You can probably remember a time when you read something you’ve written just a couple days prior and can spot things you would write differently today if you could. To have this happen less you must produce more iterations and start writing/editing sooner, so you can spend more time away from you writing.
 
Write, rewrite, and then rewrite again. Get your ideas the way you want them.

LOAD ONTO GRAMMAR EDITOR

Load up Grammarly/Microsoft Word/Wordpress/Hemingway Editor/Slick Write/Paper Rater/After the Deadline/Edit Minion/Pro Writing Aid/Smart Edit/Word Rake and put your writing on that program. Many of these programs have certain Premium features and integrate with Microsoft Word and other processors, but the freemium versions spot the major errors.

Go through your sentences with a fine-toothed comb and one of these programs to fix spelling/grammar/flow mistakes. In fact, you should ideally use more than one of the above tools so that you do indeed catch all potential issues with your writing, just to be sure.

READ IT ALOUD (OR HAVE IT READ TO YOU ALOUD)

lisa simpson writing GIFRead what you’ve written aloud. Or, use your computer’s text-to-speech to have it read your document aloud to you.

Check out some online text-to-speech options:  TTSReader.com, Readthewords.com, Voice Dream (proofreads), Google Read&Write (chrome).

If you’re on iOS, here’s how you set up dictation.

HAVE OTHERS READ IT

Okay, so I should have really called this article “self(mostly)-editing” or something. But let’s be serious. Like anything worth doing, the best writers have people who will read/judge their work and tell them what makes no sense or is flat-out wrong. Ideally, you know one or more good writers who are willing to review your work. It’s better to be wrong in the drafting/editing stage than after you’ve published and your work is out there. The more eyes on your work the better at the start. Just like it’s hard to put shampoo back in the bottle after you’ve squirted it out, your writing is hard to take back once it’s in your audience’s hands/minds.

I’m on a journal, so I’m fortunate to have several great writers available and willing to comment on my writing. It’s important to seek out people who will provide you with constructive criticism. Online forums, user groups on LinkedIn, or other online communities are useful if you do not know anyone in person to read over your piece.

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You should also seek out experts or close followers of whatever subject you’re writing about to review your writing. If you don’t know anyone in person, Reddit or other niche forums where those experts tend to congregate are good options. The great thing is that people online let you know very quickly when you’re wrong. You want that as a writer because it gets you to the truth more quickly. Sometimes the people online are wrong, and by responding to them, you’ll clarify your own points. You benefit either way, so seek criticism.

Finally, it’s not something I have tried personally, but if you’re willing, you can hire freelancers online to edit your work if you don’t have anyone else to read your work. Amazon MTurk and Upworkare are two ways to get another person to read your work, for a price. You could also check out Reddit.com/r/ForHire, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr.

PRINT IT OUT

It’s easy to miss things when you’ve been drafting and editing the same piece of text over and over on a screen. Printing on paper will help you spot some leftover errors. Try and only do this step once, though, for the environment’s sake.

Print out the text and go through your document line-by-line with a fine-toothed comb, looking for any misspellings, rogue commas, or any other edits you have missed up to this point. Ideally, you should have missed almost nothing at this point because you have reviewed and edited this draft several times over with the help of others. Don’t feel ashamed to make edits now, though. Mark the edits on your paper as you read through the print-out in a way that you will be able to understand later. Read through the paper twice if you need to catch all of the edits.

Then, make all of the changes in the document. Give it another once-over in your word processor, and at this point, I would say it’s ready to go to your audience!

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As always, please subscribe and comment with your thoughts!

Author: Ryan Ullman

Law student, productivity buff, blogger, flow-seeker. Loves the outdoors and coffee.

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