How to self edit your writing

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

A good editor is my friend but at the end of the day I still have to self edit my writing before I send it to them. And certainly I’ve received plenty of tips and tried plenty of strategies over the years to see what works and what’s a total waste of time when it comes to self editing.

Let me share my tips with you here and you can try and see which strategies work for you.

Editing on paper

Editing on paper was super common years ago. Teams that were in the same office would just print out copies and read them and mark them up

I actually did that with my third book – Content Performance Culture. I edited the printed copy. With a pen and on paper.

Pros and cons: Editing on paper

Holding the book and editing on paper felt like a tangible project and product. It also felt like that I was catching some mistakes and necessary updates that I thought already would’ve been changed earlier.

A definite pro is that it feels like you’re editing. Did I catch more things on paper than I would on the computer? Hard to tell but I made more edits than I had anticipated at that stage.

The biggest disadvantage is that just because we made the edits on paper they didn’t automatically transfer to the version that actually needs the updates. So once I edited 220 pages I still had to go back through them and transfer the edits. This process can insert omissions and errors.

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I am definitely not a fan of manual processes and this was one of them that was truly a pain. On some pages I made simple edit marks that were easy to transfer but there was also a possibility of making a mistake. Yes, I marked to cut a specific word on the paper version but now I have to make sure that exact same word and not more or less would be cut from the digital manuscript.

The different types of self edit

There are different things to self edit for. They typically include:

  • Story flow – is this a story worth reading and does it flow well?
  • Strategy alignment – does the story have anything to do with what our strategy is?
  • Proofreading – are the comas where they should be and are the typos fixed?

I’m not sure you truly have to self edit for each of these on separate  reads but sometimes that does help. Plus, if an article is 1,000 to 2,000 words reading it three more times with each of these in mind doesn’t take a ton of time – especially if the article is mostly aligned with the strategy. Now if it’s not aligned  some rewriting might be necessary.

Slowing down

All kinds of people have said over the years to slow down with self editing. But nobody has ever defined what that actually means. Reading slower doesn’t necessarily enable you to catch more mistakes. Especially if you just spent the day writing the article.

So while this tip might work for some people I personally don’t see it but that also leads me to my next step – which is a typ of slowing down.

Sleep on it

Of course slowing down could potentially also be defined as delaying the process. Don’t send the article to an editor right this second. It’s 5 PM anyways and they’re not going to read it today. Put the content away, get some rest and self edit it again tomorrow.

If you have the luxury of time, consider doing it for an additional day and self edit again on Day 3.

If you can’t let it sit overnight, consider putting it away for a couple hours and self edit again after you stepped away from it. Just that mental distance has been a fantastic strategy to get content closer to a final draft before even getting it to an editor.

Start with an “outline”

I’m not a big fan of spending hours on writing out an outline for my articles, but I usually create an outline either in my head or jotted down on scratch paper in a few moments before I ever start writing.

While that doesn’t help with grammar and proofreading things, it does help with the flow and strategy alignment.

Software to the rescue

There are also tools out there – like Yoast, Grammarly, and others can also help in the process. For example, I keep a close eye on my Yoast ratings as I am finishing my draft.

Read and fix later

Also keep in mind that digital copy can always be updated. I often read my copy again right before it gets published and even after it gets published.

Now at this point I only fix true mistakes. Think typos, but it is another way of self editing – one that’s not possible when you work with content that’s printed in a magazine or newspaper for example

Figure out what works for you

Even if you’re perfect at self editing it’s still a good idea to have another editor take a look at the piece before it publishes. Of course, getting the accountant into the best possible shape before you send it to them can be achieved through good self editing tactics.

Also determine what strategies are best for you. What can help you create the best and most powerful content? Some people like to read their content out loud. That has never worked for me but it does work for some. Give it a try.

Others need to – for lack of a better term – vomit out their  first draft and then edit it down. That also has never worked for me because it feels super inefficient. But if that’s the way you work give that a try.

My biggest tip would be to reiterate the power of distance between content creation and self editing. Stepping away from the content before publishing, can give it a chance to be even better.

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