5 Tips for Editing Your Own Writing

As a former magazine editor, I often spent my time editing other people’s work, which became a great learning tool when I edited my own work. Before becoming a magazine editor, I was very precious about my words like I CAN’T POSSIBLY CHANGE THAT SENTENCE.

But as a freelance writer, my editor’s notes are king. I’ve done page-one rewrites on article drafts. Hell, the personal essay I recently sold went through about seven drafts before I sold it.

I understand that editing your own work is tough so I compiled some tips I use when I’m editing/rewriting.

1. Give your writing a few days off.

When you finish a piece, some times you’re in love with it. Or you hate it. Either way, put the file down, walk away, do anything else, and then come back to it when you can read your work with new eyes. I always find that when I come back to a piece of writing after some time off, I can read my work more clearly. OH, this sentence doesn’t make sense—that sort of thing.

2. Summarize your premise. If any sentences or paragraphs don’t serve your idea, toss them.

When I was writing my personal essay, a writing teacher I had—Paula Derrow—said something important. You can’t put everything that happened to you ever into your essay. You have to pick and choose the events that go with your central idea. Not everything you’ve ever wanted to write about—which can be tough when you’re writing about your own life.

3. Read your writing out loud.

When I think I’m done, I read the piece out loud. That’s when I can hear sentences that are off or when I’m being too wordy. It’s a good way to catch yourself in your common mistakes like when I use the same word over and over again.

4. Print out your piece and get out the red pen.

When you pick up your piece in paper form, look at it as if you’re the editor and you’re reading this for the first time. Don’t give yourself a gold star (not yet anyway). Look at your writing with a critical eye and find those grammatical errors.

5. Make a list of things you want to change.

One of the best tools I got from reading Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See is creating a revision map. It’s basically two columns—what you have and what you need. You mark down the page number or paragraph and write down what you want to fix. This is especially helpful with longer works like an entire play or novel so you don’t start editing/rewriting like a mad woman and get lost in a rabbit hole of revision.

I'd love to know what you think! Tell me in the comments below.

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