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Editing Your Own Writing

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 20 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
Edit; Self-edit; Editing; Creative

As a knowledgeable person, you know that your words and ideas could be arranged in a more cohesive manner, but you just cannot seem to manipulate them. Try as you might, your rewriting efforts seem to be for naught.

Defeated, you sigh.

Editing one’s own writing is a definite challenge.

But before you completely throw in the towel, know that you’re not alone. Most authors rewrite at some point in their careers; thus, knowing how to properly self-edit is a boon to any creative writer who wants to become better and/or more prolific.

Below are three techniques to help you systematically approach self-editing in an effort to produce copy that is crisp, stories that are compelling, and images that jump from the page.

1: Break the Ties

Just as it can be difficult for a parent to be objective about his or her child, so can it be tough for an author to remove him- or herself from a poem, play, or other written work of art. Yet without the ability to cut the proverbial “umbilical cord”, your piece, like a sheltered or spoiled youngster, can never really achieve greatness.

Some authors prefer to distance themselves from their stories for a period of time, returning when they feel less emotionally-attached to their text. That time frame can be a few hours or a few years; it all depends on the writer.

However, if you’re working under a publishing deadline, you may not have such leeway. In that case, you have to force yourself to “detach” within a matter of minutes in order to begin the editing process and consequently turn your copy in on time. This process can be accomplished by working on another written piece (thus releasing your brainpower from the previous one) or focusing on some other project for a short time.

2: Be Creative!

It’s ironic that creative writers often leave their natural imaginative tendencies at the door when they start to edit their writings. Rather than viewing their works through a screen of creativity, they suddenly become serious and, in some cases, frustrated.

The next time you have a story to edit, view it as an unfinished product. Like a heap of clay, it can be moulded as needed. Even if the basic framework is in place, you can still tweak it here and there to turn it from something that’s mundane to something that’s memorable.

If you’ve successfully detached from your creation, this process will be much easier. You can even start by working on sections of your text or challenging yourself to write the piece from a different viewpoint.

By making the process fun and not tedious, you’re likely to get better results in a much faster time frame. And you won’t look upon the experience with aversion.

3: Don’t Marry Your Words

Though it’s fine to love something you’ve written, if you marry yourself to it, you’ll never be able to edit it. Yes, you adore the way a sentence came together… but what if it just doesn’t fit?

Rather than yoking yourself to every phrase or idea, ask yourself some hard-hitting questions, including:

  • Does this sentence/paragraph/word really further the plot/dialogue? Or is it just there because I like it?
  • Is this sentence/paragraph/word redundant? If so, can it be removed without affecting the piece?
  • How can I say this same thought in fewer words?
Yes, you may feel a little like a cold-hearted butcher the first time you attempt to scrutinise your creative musings in this manner, but you’ll soon discover that when you dig a little deeper, there are treasures hidden beneath your original copy. As the layers of unnecessary jargon are pulled back, gems and epiphanies are sure to find their ways to the surface.

Remember – your job as a self-editor isn’t to obsess; it’s to create the most coherent, intelligent, and/or entertaining work you possibly can while enjoying yourself… and maybe learning a little bit, too.

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