How to Self-Edit like an Editor

Sep 26, 2014
Photo courtesy Nic McPhee, Flickr Commons

We’re pretty quick to admit our biases at Page Two. If we had a written list, great editing would be at the very top of it. We’re always in favour of editorial work, no matter who the writer is or what length of text she’s working with. We’ve already posted about how to hire an editor and how to understand the different kinds of editing, but we haven’t yet discussed the benefits of self-editing as a preliminary step – or as the only editorial step in cases where a professional editor isn’t involved. Most of us find it difficult to edit our own work. We feel too close to it, and we fear we won’t see things that a fresh pair of eyes could easily see. But it’s a critical part of producing polished, professional prose. Here are some expert tips for self-editing from Page Two’s resident editor:

Take a bird’s-eye view

Before diving into your prose at a micro level to correct things like punctuation and typos, sit back and read the whole thing at least once, all the way through. Consider broad structural issues first. How are your pacing and character development? Is your work well organized? Have you made your central argument effectively and have you backed it up throughout your text? Think about your work like a substantive editor would, and you will immediately see the forest for the trees.

Don’t be a repeat offender

Be careful about repeating yourself and watch out for places where you’re restating what you’ve already said – not necessarily in the same words, but with the same meaning. Readers can easily become fatigued if they feel they’ve already gotten the point that you’ve made several times over. This is one of the most common pitfalls for even the most experienced writers.

Take off your expert’s hat

You know your subject area well, and you’re familiar with the issues you’re writing about. That might lead to passages in your work that require more expertise or insight than a reader might reasonably bring to your work. Try to identify places where you’re making assumptions about a reader’s knowledge base, and avoid leaps in logic that the reader might not follow. If you need some additional editorial expertise, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to help make your work the best it can be.