As a writer, there are some things I’m especially good at— things that make me love my work. I love the fact that I can reread some of my stories and still belly laugh at my dialog, observations, and situations. That I can evoke emotion about made-up characters, from myself, a year or two after I wrote it, thrills me. Luckily, some readers tell me my writing has the same effect on them, so I know it’s not just myself that I entertain.
Here’s where self-editing gets tricky. When I’m reading my own work, I tend to breeze over the parts that don’t entertain me as well, in a hurry to get to the good stuff. This creates a couple of problems. 1. I don’t catch mistakes and red flags because I’m reading those parts too quickly. 2. If they are boring to me, they are likely boring to my readers as well, and I miss that fact because I’m busy blowing by it. Obviously, we all have our favorite parts, but it’s important to pay as much attention to our not-so-favorite parts as well and take advantage of opportunities to make the prose stronger, make it a favorite as well so nobody rushes through it to get to a better part.
Any writer will tell you that it’s so easy to overlook your own mistakes, usually because we read the writing as we mean it to sound, not as it actually reads. It’s amazing how many times you can read over your own work and skip over that extra word, that ed ending that is supposed to be es. What about those changes in tense we don’t notice, because the scene is so intense, our focus is on creating that powerful feeling for our readers? It’s easy to overlook those little things. Another common thing I see when editing for others, but I often miss in my own writing, is reusing the same word or phrasing in close proximity, or starting four sentences in a row with the same word. What about when we turn a phrase that makes perfect sense to our own, hyper-focused mind, but not so much to the objective reader? I see this quite a bit when editing for others. You have to ask the writer, ‘Exactly what the hell are you trying to say here?’ Sometimes, my best guesstimates are way off.
Finally, that all-too-easy passive voice conundrum. Yeah, I see it in my own writing. It’s like nails on a chalkboard. When I see it in someone else’s writing, I usually know exactly how to fix it and make the writing stronger. Why is it, that in my own writing, I can’t figure out how to rework some of my passive constructs? It’s mind numbingly aggravating, and makes me doubt my skills as a writer. Thankfully, being able to do it for someone else keeps me sane and reminds me it can be done, I just need to figure out how to distance myself from my own work.
Whenever you can, take advantage of a second, or even third, pair of eyes to help with your editing. Always make sure you’ve edited the piece to death before you ask someone else to read it. If they see you haven’t taken the time to carefully examine it for basic mistakes, they are not likely to volunteer their time again. Critique groups are great for pointing out some of your weaknesses, and you should use them to hone your skills, but when it comes to editing, they won’t do you much good. Instead, ask a friend whose work you admire and respect, and make sure you offer to return the favor. It’s easy to take, take, take, and forget to give something in return.
*Tip for self-editing- change the font of your work when you edit. It will make it easier to spot mistakes.