Editing your own writing effectively is really, really hard. That’s why professional editors exist, and why writers and publishers pay significant money for their services.
However, let’s assume you need to edit something yourself. How should you start?
Why is editing your own writing so hard?
To solve this problem, we need to first understand why editing your own writing is so difficult.
It’s difficult because you know what you intended to say. Instead of seeing what’s actually on the page, your brain will fill in the blanks and see what’s supposed to be there.
That’s why having someone else read your writing is so useful. They don’t see what’s in your head – they only see what’s on the page. Even if they’re not a trained editor, they’ll notice problems that are invisible to you.
How can you make editing your own writing easier?
To edit your own writing effectively, you need to stop your brain filling in those blanks.
That can mean using tools to help you see what’s really on the page, or simply looking at the text in an unfamiliar way.
In my experience, some of the best ways of doing this are:
1. Read it out loud
This naturally slows down your reading, which can make it easier to spot errors. It’s also useful for detecting awkward phrasing – if you find yourself stumbling over a sentence or wanting to say it differently to how it appears on the page, that’s a strong sign that it could be written better.
2. Use a text-to-speech program
Copy and paste your text into an online text-to-speech program such as TTS Reader. This is a fantastic way to pick up on misspellings and missing or duplicate words. Your eyes can skim over these sorts of mistakes, but your ears won’t.
3. Read it backwards
Don’t literally read backwards – that would be confusing! Start by reading the final sentence, by itself. Next, read the previous sentence, and so on until you reach the beginning. By reading each sentence without the surrounding context, you can discourage your brain from filling in the gaps. This is particularly good for noticing sentences with odd or broken grammar. For longer texts, you can do this one paragraph at a time if that feels easier.
4. Use online editing tools
There are a variety of online tools that can help you identify problems with your text. These range from grammar and spelling checkers such as Grammarly to apps like Hemmingway, which is designed to help you improve your writing style. Like any automatic check, these tools aren’t perfect. However, they can be a great additional step in your editing process.
5. Leave it for a while
Sometimes, the best way to see a text clearly is to move on to something else and come back to it in a few weeks. You’ll be amazed by how much difference this can make. Mistakes that slipped through multiple rewrites will suddenly jump out, and wording that seemed fine before will read as awkward or confused.
So that’s it? Problem solved?
Well, no. Not exactly.
None of these methods deal with the core problem of you being too close to your own writing to edit it effectively. However, they do make things a little easier.
Ultimately, it’s still a really good idea to have someone else read your text, even if that’s just your husband, neighbour, or pet cat. There’s no substitute for a second pair of eyes.