For Writers, Writing Tips

Writing Solo: How To Edit Your Own Work

Every writer knows the value of a good editor – they clean your copy, bring your voice to life, pinpoint problems areas and identify where you could do better.

If you’re very lucky, they might even become good friends in the process.

Editors are the lynchpin of the whole process. I’ve been in this game a long time and I’ve haven’t met a writer yet who produced flawless copy in their first draft.

Which is why it can get tricky when you have to perform the dual role of writer and editor for your own work.

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I’ve been both a full-time staff writer and a self-employed freelancer, and have learnt a few things along the way.

  1. Editors are amazing
  2. There’s no reason you can’t be your own editor (provided you have lots of caffeinated beverages to hand)

Here’s a few guiding principles to get you started:

Forget about voice

That is, forget about your voice. Give the piece a second read and, this time, think about the publication’s voice.

Does it fit their style/tone? Will their audience respond to it?

Writers are often more loyal to their own voice than their publication’s. Editors are there to rein them in and make sure the final piece is consistent with the client’s brand.

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Walk away

Depending how much time you have before deadline, let your work marinate before beginning the editing process.

Not only will this help you move from writing to editing mode (and keep them separate), it will also give you some distance from the piece.

I usually leave mine overnight and come back to it in the morning with fresh eyes. At this stage you should be checking it for:

  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • style
  • mistakes (typos/factual)

You can’t catch all of that from re-reading it the minute you put your pen down so take a break – even if it’s just to get a cup of coffee.

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Think of the reader

Coming back to your work after a break also helps you cross the line from writer to reader.

As a sharp-eyed reader, ask yourself:

Does it flow well? Is the context clear? Are any unfamiliar terms defined?

One of the biggest editing truisms is that clarity matters, and if that means killing your darlings then now’s the time to do it.

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Go further

If you’re just starting your career as a freelance writer, I highly recommend investing in some training to sharpen your editing skills.

I can personally recommend the Poynter ACES Certificate in Editing which can be done entirely online and is very comprehensive – covering everything from grammar basics to verification and headline writing.

I’ve also heard good things about SkillShare which has a self-editing course, as well as various proofreading and manuscript-editing classes.

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Writing and editing go hand in hand. Learning to be your own editor can only enhance your career.

Or, as Stephen King puts it:

Only God gets it right the first time and only a slob says: “Oh well, let it go, that’s what copyeditors are for.”

1 thought on “Writing Solo: How To Edit Your Own Work”

  1. “Walk away.”

    Amen, Catherine. Walk away. Take the bus. Lie on the floor and listen to your favorite record in the dark.

    This approach has served me well, especially when writing short fiction. It creates this kind of … cognitive distance.

    Some writers have a group, or a network of other creatives that can be this kind of sounding board. For those who don’t (ahem … me), there’s still the writing. Any hope of publishing it requires *effective* self-editing (as opposed to amateur whimsy).

    Enter: Catherine’s recipe for editing one’s own work.

    (Oh, and that’s not to imply that having a network of fellow creative writers wouldn’t be a superlative thing.)

    Like

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