How to Be Your Own Best Editor

BY CHELSEA ENNEN • February 9, 2023

How to Be Your Own Best Editor

Any writer lucky enough to find a good editor knows what a difference it makes to work with someone who understands you and knows how to make your writing shine.

At the bare minimum, it’s crucial to have someone to find what you missed, from embarrassing typos and dull clichés to grave errors that might tarnish your professional reputation. But with the fast pace of modern journalism and publishing, there’s not always time for thorough edits.

Maybe you have access to an editor, but they’re an overburdened freelancer just like you, working with an employer that wants a lot of copy on a lightning-fast schedule. Maybe you’re an independent author, and a paid editor is a big expense. Or maybe you’re one of the many, many writers who are also professional editors, and you’re pressuring yourself to use both your skills at once with limited success.

No matter your situation, it’s the rare writer these days who doesn’t have to do any of their own editing. But editing your own work can be incredibly difficult. After all, if you were able to find all the mistakes in your own writing, well, you wouldn’t write them down in the first place.

But there are plenty of simple, reliable methods you can use to be your own best editor.

Give Yourself Time

There’s no substitute for having someone else look at your writing; a pair of fresh eyes will always be the best method for picking out issues you’ve missed.

But if you can’t utilize someone else’s brain, which is especially common for freelancers who are writing lots and lots of copy every week, you can help yourself out by managing your time a bit better.

You’d never send in an assignment or email a pitch without reading it over first—maybe even reading it over a few times. But the best way to actually catch issues with your writing is to leave it alone for at least a day. Taking a break to walk around the block often isn’t enough; your eyes will still gloss over that misspelling, that split infinitive, that incomplete thought.

Instead, adjust your calendar so that you finish a draft at least a day or so before you plan to turn it in. When you’re finished writing, put it away and work on other things, and forget about your draft. That way, when you come back to it, you’ll have a new perspective.

Apps Are Your Friend

If you’ve spent any time on YouTube and you haven’t figured out how to stop the internet from tracking your every move, you’ve likely seen targeted ads for apps like Grammarly. Grammarly is a service that offers a base level of checks like looking for spelling and grammar issues but also offers stylistic suggestions.

Another program called Hemingway reviews your sentence structure. Referencing Ernest Hemingway’s signature plainspoken style, Hemingway is meant to show you how often you’re using overly long, complex sentences.

Now long sentences aren’t always bad. Academic writers, for one, might not find Hemingway to be useful. But any content writer will tell you that website and email copy works best if it’s short, clear, and at an accessible reading level.

As a writer, you may bristle at the idea of letting a computer tell you how to do your job. But think of these apps as what they are: tools. You can take or leave their suggestions, depending on what you’re writing. But if you’re sick of clients pointing out issues with your writing that an editor could have caught, well, an AI editor might not be the worst idea. Who knows? You may even find you love using them.

Study Up on Style Guides

If using fancy apps is an option on one end of the spectrum, cracking open a good old-fashioned textbook is on the other end.

When was the last time you studied grammar? If the answer to that ends in the word “grade,” it’s time to brush up.

But style guides aren’t just about grammar. Being fluent in different style guides will open up your professional opportunities, possibly even whole new career paths. You could buy the newest MLA Handbook to improve your own writing and find yourself booking all kinds of work as an editor with an MLA specialty.

Understanding different style guides will help you be better at breaking down the nuts and bolts of your sentences. It boosts your understanding of how to write effectively and will help you develop an editorial mindset that you can switch on when you go back to edit your drafts.

Pay Attention to Your Favorite Editor

Whenever you do get to work with a dedicated, professional, someone-who-isn’t-you editor, pay close attention to the edits they send back to you—not just because it’s your job to make changes, but because those marked-up drafts may hold the secret to leveling up your writing skills.

When you get that editor’s precious time and expertise, take a step back and look at the big picture. How often do you get a draft back with a note saying you repeated a certain word too many times? Do your introductory paragraphs tend to run long? Does your editor take out your semicolons and break them into two separate sentences?

Paying attention to how little edits add up over time can tell you a lot. For example, if you keep track of your edits, you might learn that one of your clients prefers shorter, snappier paragraphs, and you can change your drafts with that in mind. Not only will that make you more valuable to that client, but you’ll save that hard-working editor some valuable time.

Have You Thanked Your Editor Today?

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely struggled with editing in the past and are frustrated with how difficult it can be to edit well. While it’s important to focus on your own skills, don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the editors you do get to work with. Always thank them for their edits, their expertise, and their hard work. Writers and editors are in this together!

Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn with her husband and her dog. When not writing or reading, she is a fiber and textile artist who sews, knits, crochets, weaves, and spins.

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