I have always loved to write. I have also always loved to edit. But, I didn’t always love editing my own work. I used to feel squeamish and intensely uncomfortable whenever I had to sit down with a red pen and start marking things out. I think I felt this way because it felt weird to read out loud what once existed only in the dark abyss of my mind. To read something that no one else has seen or even looked at before is such an intensely strange moment. But also incredibly magical.
Now, however, I love editing my own work. Sometimes I feel as if editing is my favorite part of writing. For one, I am exuberant because I am finally done with the writing part. It is a reward wrapped in a pretty box with a ribbon on top. For another, I love to read my own writing out loud, and just marvel at what I created.
Nurturing that first idea and turning it into a draft is like having a child and then watching that child grow up. Similar to a child, that draft must undergo several stages in order to get where it needs to be. Editing is the process of helping it get where it needs to go.
So, here are five editing tips that I think every writer should know.
1–Take a Break
After you finish writing, step away from your computer and go do something else. Studies from this Scientific American article show that people who take breaks can increase their creativity, productivity, and mental awareness. Breaks allow us to be able to step back from the piece. We can take a breather. We can relax. We can focus on something else.
After you finish writing a chapter of your book or an entire article, go do something else. Go on Facebook or Twitter and chat with some people. Grab your sketch book or canvas and paint a picture of the view outside. Go fix yourself some lunch. Finish knitting that sweater you’ve been working on for months. Go check the mail or take the trash out. Go clean your bathroom.
Whatever it is, it will get your mind off of your writing. Once you are ready to tackle your writing again, you will feel more energized and afresh with a clearer mind so that you can look at the writing from a fresh perspective.
2–Read It Out Loud
I don’t know about you, but I find that I do my best editing when I can read the words out loud. When I don’t read out loud, I feel restricted or contained. When I can read the words out loud, I feel this sense of freedom as the words and ideas take shape before my very eyes. It is probably at this moment that my words take on a life of their own. I guess you could say that the life of these words begins after first putting fingers to the keyboard, but I say they begin after they can be spoken by the writer.
Usually reading out loud once is not sufficient. I find that I have to read out loud twice, three times, sometimes even ten times. I read out loud to make sure that the writing makes sense and fits the overall message.
3–Use Different Colors
Whether you choose to edit on the computer or by hand, you can still use different colors. Use a different colored marker to show the revisions on paper. Use a different color font to differentiate from the main text. You could even assign different colors to the different edits. For example, use red to show grammar edits and yellow to show spelling corrections.
The reason why you should use different colors is so that you can clearly see the edits and revisions at first glance. Later, when you have to go back and rewrite the text, you can easily see the corrections and correct them accordingly.
4–Have a Dictionary Nearby
Whenever you are editing, you should always have a dictionary on hand. That dictionary can be a print one or an online one. I personally just use online dictionaries to check for the correct spelling of the words. Besides checking the spelling, I also like to double check the meaning to make sure that I am using the right word in the right context. It doesn’t hurt to double check.
5–Be Prepared for the Unexpected
Sometimes when you’re editing, you may find that you have to delete a sentence or two or even an entire paragraph if it seems like it doesn’t really fit the overall message of what you’re writing. And that is okay. When you do have to delete, you can just delete it or you could even save the sentences in a separate document. Perhaps those sentences could be the source of inspiration for another piece of writing.
The point is that when you are editing, you should be ready for anything. Edit the text while keeping in mind that it is just a first draft. The first draft is proof that you actually wrote something. Editing prunes that draft, making it be more effective by pruning out the weeds. It’s possible that you might have to trash the entire draft. Or it’s possible that that draft is pretty much perfect and you don’t have to do any huge revisions, aside from a spelling or grammar error here and there.
Editing is a skill that is necessary in cultivating good writing. The best books or articles weren’t written overnight. The idea was born and from that idea the writer nurtures and raises it to its fullest potential. It is almost like having a child, rearing it until you can release the child out into the big wide world.
What is your best editing tip?