By Cynthia Howerter
Self-editing is serious business—or at least it should be. This was drummed home to me during my sessions with a, thankfully, demanding writing coach. Horrified at the numerous errors she noted on my first submission, I scrutinized each mistake and realized I could have caught most of them had I taken the time to do a thorough self-edit. I see similar mistakes when I read or edit other writers’ unpublished work.
No matter what we write—blog posts, magazine articles, or books—our goal should be to produce the best writing we are capable of if we want to be taken seriously by readers. Self-editing forces me to thoroughly examine each word and punctuation mark, and in doing so, provides me with the opportunity to improve my skill. I work hard on writing and I work equally hard—if not harder—on self-editing because that’s the final step, the final polishing before putting my writing out there for all to see.
Once I’ve completed a piece, I read it out loud. Although this is time-consuming, the slow pace allows me to catch the majority of my mistakes. No matter how lengthy the article, I read it aloud, edit, and repeat the process as many times it takes until I’m satisfied.
Let me share the check-list of things I look for when I self-edit:
1) Are all words spelled and used correctly?
2) Are all subject-verbs in agreement?
3) Are any words used repetitively, especially small ones, when synonyms are available?
4) Do sentences flow smoothly?
5) Have I used a variety of simple and complex sentences?
6) Does each sentence contribute to the subject of the article or the paragraph in which it appears?
7) Has every punctuation mark been correctly used? Are any missing?
8) Can readers (who won’t be able to ask me questions) understand what I’ve written, what points I’m trying to convey?
Whenever I have a writing deadline to meet, I make sure I schedule enough time to write and edit; hurrying is not my friend and never does me any favors. Once I finish the final self-edit, I make it a point to walk away from the article for several hours or even a day before giving it one last read-through. This final step ensures my satisfaction that I’ve done my best work.
How do you self-edit your work?
Do you schedule adequate time for editing?
What things do you look for when editing?
Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter writes historical fiction and contributes to two history websites. She and La-Tan Roland Murphy co-authored God’s Provisionin Tough Times, a non-fiction anthology. Visit Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter, www.cynthiahowerter.com, and www.ColonialQuills.blogspot.com.