Self Editing Tip #1: Distancing yourself from your work

Picture 4Self editing is an important and often difficult part of writing. Distancing yourself from your own work can be especially tough. Think about it, you’ve poured over the subject, invested time, sweat and even, on occasion, tears into a piece and in the end you have to take a step back and go over ‘your baby’ with a critical eye.

Time It

You need time away from your piece to see it with your fresh editor eyes. I like to call this letting an article “marinate.” This marinating time gives you the opportunity to reset your brain and can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. You do need to schedule marinating time in accordance with your deadline. An editor is not going to want to hear about how your piece is late because it’s still in the sauce.

Print It

This isn’t the best ecological practice, but printing an article out will go a long way in making sure you catch any errors. It may sound old school, but there is really no substitute for a printed piece and a red pen. I find that longer articles benefit from this style of editing and shorter, blog-style pieces are less likely to need the stroke of the pen.

If the thought of printing out an article just for editing bothers your green sensibilities, simply reuse the paper for something else:

  • add it to the shredder and turn it into packing paper for packages or gifts
  • keep it on hand for kids drawings and doodles
  • use both sides before tossing in the recycle bin

Robot It

No, I’m not asking you to bust out in your best robot dance routine while editing, though if you do put it on YouTube so I can laugh. I’m actually asking you to leave your emotions at the door. This is vital to editing especially when it comes to hitting your word count. As a writer you can become so  attached to your words that you can’t possibly find any place to trim your beautifully crafted work.

It is better for you to do the trimming than your editor because they don’t want to do it. I’ve gotten pretty darn resentful when a writer has sent in 500 words for a 300 word piece and expect me to whittle it down for them. It makes me think that they are either trying to get over, trying to get paid more than I budgeted or they are too lazy to be bothered. In any case I get cranky.

Imagine you’re a woodcarver and you have carved the most beautiful bench for a client. You deliver it proudly and when you see the piece at the homeowner’s housewarming party you’re horrified to find the client has hacked away at the legs with a handsaw because you failed to make the bench within the parameters they gave you. “But the legs were the best part!” you yell in horror. The client shrugs and mentions it just didn’t fit so they cut what they could. Edit to hit your word count so you have more control over what makes the publication.

Self editing requires distance in order to see your words as just words – words that need to be manipulated and perfected to the best of your ability.

How do you distance yourself from your work? Tell us below!


One response
  1. Phil Avatar

    One more suggestion: Hire an editor, especially if a high-paying project, a high-volume client or you just get too busy to give things a good enough second read. I’ve hired someone I know as a subcontractor/editor a few times in these instances. It was well worth the money I paid because they were top-flight projects.

    By the way, your other suggestions are excellent. I always print things out, more because I come from years of print journalism, and tend to have more mistakes if I don’t let it cool for a couple of hours before reviewing — though some daily desadline items don’t permit that luxury.

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