8 self-editing mistakes you could be making (and how to fix them)
You’ve just typed the last sentence of your report, thesis or novel. Surely it’s finished and you can celebrate?
Unfortunately not. While it’s a massive achievement to complete the writing process, there is still more work to be done.
So what do you do next?
Well, now it’s time to start the self-editing process. If you’re new to self-editing, it can be overwhelming. So to help, here’s a list of eight mistakes writers make when self-editing (and how to fix them).
1. Starting to edit before the first draft is finished
Writing and editing are different processes. Writing is creative, while editing is analytical, so switching between writing and editing can cause you to lose focus and momentum.
Wait until the creative process is finished before starting to edit.
2. Starting to edit as soon as the first draft is finished
Starting to edit as soon as you’ve finished writing your first draft means that what you’ve written is still fresh in your mind. If you know what you meant to say, that’s what you’ll see – even if that’s not what’s written!
Put your work to one side for a few days (or a few weeks if you can) before starting the editing process. When you return to it, you will be more likely to spot errors.
3. Editing for structure, readability and spelling in a single pass (or copy-editing before fixing the structure)
Just like writing and editing are different processes, the four levels of editing are different too. Checking the structure of a text is not the same as checking the readability. And checking the readability is different from checking the spelling, punctuation and grammar. There are so many things to look for and amend at each editing level that your focus will be split and issues will be missed. And if you correct spelling and grammar errors before fixing structural issues, significant sections of your text may require rewriting, which would negate the time (or money) spent copy-editing.
Edit in multiple rounds. Split your editing process into separate tasks. Focus on one task at a time, and work through them in the right order.
check the structure (structural editing). This concerns the outline of your text. Is everything in the right order? Do the ideas flow logically? Is there one clear topic per chapter/section?
check the readability (line editing). Have any details been missed or not explained fully for readers unfamiliar with the topic? Is there too much detail that isn’t important? Have any details been repeated? Are there any sentences that are awkward or don’t make sense?
check the spelling, punctuation and grammar (copy-editing). Have they been used consistently? Have the appropriate words been used for the intended audience? Is there any repetition of words or phrases?
4. Being afraid to cut
You’ve spent days, months or even years writing your first draft. It’s easy to get attached to certain paragraphs (or chapters), but every scene or section should contribute to your story or document. Irrelevant information will distract your readers from your intended message.
Don’t be afraid to get rid of unnecessary text. Look at each chapter, section or paragraph. Can any be removed without affecting the plot or overall meaning of your document?
5. Not seeking a second (or third, or fourth) opinion
It’s difficult to be objective about your own writing. In traditional publishing, a text is edited multiple times before it is published. This can include structural feedback from a developmental editor or critique partner, alterations for readability by a line editor, consistency applied by a copy-editor, or minor errors corrected by a proofreader.
Obtain as much feedback and editorial assistance on your writing as you can. If you are unsure about the structure of your story or document, and hiring a developmental editor is beyond your budget, ask a critique partner or beta reader (or a friend or family member who can be impartial) to read through your work to get an unbiased opinion of your text. They can help point out any bigger issues with the structure and readability before the more detailed editing at sentence and word level is carried out.
6. Not using a style sheet
If you don’t follow a style sheet, inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation and grammar can creep into your text. This can be off-putting to your readers or result in misunderstandings. A style sheet is somewhere to record all of your decisions about your text, including your preferences of spelling and punctuation. Are you writing for a British or American audience? Do you want to use the Oxford (serial) comma? And what about quotation marks? (Single or double?)
Create a basic style sheet that lists your editorial style preferences (or download one of my style sheet templates). Applying these style preferences to your book or document will help you keep your text consistent.
7. Formatting the text before it has been edited
Just like copy-editing before fixing the structure of a document, formatting your text before it has been edited (for structure, readability and consistency) will negate any time spent doing so.
Wait until after your text has been edited at structural, line and copy level before formatting it.
8. Not leaving the proofreading until last
Proofreading is the final check that a document goes through before publication. It picks up minor errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar and formatting that have been missed in previous rounds of editing.
Only proofread your writing once it has been through multiple edits (structure, readability and consistency) and formatted. Remember, you are only looking for minor errors at this stage. To catch repeated words and spelling errors, use a ruler or a blank sheet of paper to read your document one line at a time. Or you could read it backwards one word at a time.
A self-edit is not a replacement for a professional edit or proofread, but your budget will go further and you’ll end up with a better final piece if you take your writing as far as you can on your own before sending it to an editor.
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