“I have rewritten — often several times — every word I ever published.
My pencils outlast their erasers.”
Whatever writing project you are working on, at some point, hopefully soon, you are going to want to send you work out into the world. That may mean sending a short story to the editors at literary journals, self-publishing a memoir, or submitting a query letter and pages to literary agents. Whatever your goal and wherever you are now, you are going to need to self-edit your work. Your mission: To make your writing speak well for you as a professional by making it as error-free, lively, and readable as possible.
With this in mind, Ryan G. Van Cleave, a writing teacher and author of 20 books, including Memoir Writing for Dummies and The Weekend Book Proposal, offered some helpful editing tips in the “The Writer,” September 2015. Of his 10 tips, I’ve chosen 5 to spotlight here:
Use standard formatting: Visual presentation is important and there are certain conventions here that you’ll want to follow: Double space your text, use 1-inch margins, and pick a simple 12-point font, such as Times New Roman or Arial. Be sure your page numbers are clear and you include all your contact information.
Read your text aloud: This simple but powerful tip comes up again and again. When you read your work aloud mistakes and opportunities for improvement jump out at you. Ryan suggests having an audience — a spouse, a friend, writing group member, even your dog or cat. This makes you take it more seriously.
Watch your spelling: Trusting spellcheck to catch errors is a risky business. If you intend to write “from” but type “form” instead, spellcheck won’t catch the error. Add in a few more typos like this and your text begins to look sloppy. Ryan suggests reading your manuscript from bottom to top, right to left. While the text won’t make sense, any spelling mistakes will jump out at you.
Avoid stage directions: In our drive to help our readers visualize what’s happening, we often resort to clumsy “stage directions” that slow down the action. Be choosy about your details: make them full of meaning, not fillers. “Here’s one place,” notes Ryan, where telling is more effective than showing.”
Find editing partners: Anything that improves your work before submitting it is worth doing. This may mean having a fellow writer or friend look it over and flag any problems they see. As readers, they can play a valuable role in making your work stronger. One friend was kind enough to read aloud the first five chapters of my book for me into a tape recorder and it made a huge difference. When I listened to the tape, I could hear what worked well — and what didn’t — and make improvements.
Self editing is challenging, but it’s also rewarding. Every typo you catch, every verb you make more lively, every sentence you make more muscular makes your writing stronger and better. Write on!