How To Edit Your Own Writing

This article is by Chloe Waters.


My high school writing teacher once said, “A writer views his work the way a mother views her child.” A child is the creation of his/her mother as a written piece is the creation of the writer. Writers, especially when their work is freshly written, are unable to see shortcomings in their writing, just as a mother is unlikely to see her child’s flaws. An essay, poem, story, or novel, is an extension of the writer, and a creation to which the writer is attached. Thus, editing one’s own work is very challenging.

The most effective way to edit your own writing is to distance yourself from it for as long as possible. After writing something, don’t look at it for at least one week. If you have time to spare, it would be better to wait a few months. This separation will distance you from your work. By then you will forgot a lot of what you wrote, and will be more likey to read it as a reader, not as the author. In this way you will be able to see its flaws better.

Once you have distanced yourself from your work you are ready to start editing. The following two techniques will help. First, print it out. Viewing it on a printed page will help you see the work as an overall piece. If there are passages that you want to remove, or rearrange, make notes to yourself on the margins to help you decide what to do. Then go back to your computer and type up the changes. While doing this, chances are you will make even more changes. Repeat this process as many times as needed.

Another reason why printing your work helps the editing process is because it can prevent you from editing too much. While editing on the computer, you may hastily slash appropriate and beautiful sentences, thus losing them forever unless you have an impeccable memory. By implementing this method you will see the crossed out sentence along with its replacement, then decide that the original is better. Also, you will have the old draft printed if you ever want to refer back to it later on.

The second technique is to read your work out loud, slowly and clearly, even if it is to your mother or child. While reading the piece out loud one is likely to find passages that don’t work, sentences that seem misplaced, and errors in punctuation and grammar. Seeing the audience’s reaction will help you edit. Ask yourself the following questions. Were there places that they seemed confused? Do these passages need elucidating?

Give yourself space from your writing before plunging into the editing part of creation. After that, print it, and read it out loud. Consider reading a book or two on writing for maximum results. William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, and Diana Hacker’s Rules for Writers, are highly recommended. Strunk and White’s piece focuses more on the stylistic aspect of writing, while Hacker’s book outlines the rules for proper English grammar. These tips should help you conquer the difficult task of editing your own work.

For Further Thought

How do you go about editing? Do you have a method that works for you?

Do you find the editing process to be painful, or pleasurable?

Do you have any tricks or tips for making editing a pleasant experience?

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6 years ago

I haven’t gotten to the editing part of the process yet, but as I’m an English Major, I don’t see me having any issues with it. And I can not believe how many blogs and/or short stories I’ve seen that have not been edited very well. As an unknown writing who is just starting out, first impressions are very, very important….and if your work is not clean and makes sense, do not quit your day job. And if you don’t trust yourself, then hire someone else to look it over for you.

Grace Allison
6 years ago

First drafts for me are like throwing up on paper and then the art of the craft takes over. I use several tools like a Writer’s Thesaurus, Emotional Thesaurus and sometimes I read Ray Bradbury. Antonia del Drago’s Book on “Mythic Characters” is excellent in creating process and who does what in my story.
I love editing, the process of writing is about patience and what the story and its characters want me to share. Editing is the most fun it makes me better as a writer and opens my creative self to higher awareness.

Diane Tibert
6 years ago

I completely agree with reading a manuscript out loud and printing it to read again. These are two of the steps I include in my self-editing process.

I wrote a blog about the steps (with details) I take to edit my work. You can read it here:

It’s too much to leave in this comment section.

Antonio del Drago
6 years ago

Editing is my favorite part of the writing process. I enjoy taking something that is rough, and polishing it until it shines.

The advice about printing out your writing is spot-on. When I print out a story or a chapter, I catch mistakes that my mind passed over on the computer screen.

Aderyn Wood
6 years ago

I really enjoy the editing part. The first draft is always a mess and I enjoy making it tidy, embellishing sections where necessary while cutting other parts. Good advice about the distance. Stephen King said in ‘On Writing’ to put your manuscript away for at least six weeks before editing. The more ‘distance’ you can give it the better. I also incorporate feedback from critique partners in my editing process, which helps me to see the manuscript with ‘new eyes’.

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