Write From The Heart

Three Tips for Self-Editing Your Writing

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Writing is hard.

Editing might be even harder.

Self-editing is the hardest.

You have the words down on the page, but now you have to decide which ones to keep, which to change, and which to remove. You need to check for spelling and grammar errors. You have to decide if there’s a better way to word that one sentence. You need to look for passive voice.

Some of us are fortunate enough to have friends or family members willing to edit our work for us. You might even be lucky enough to have a writing coach or professional editor.

Most of us, however, have to self-edit our work. And that’s really hard to do, because we put a lot of time and effort into our writing. No one wants to admit that their first draft isn’t perfect.

(For the record, no draft is perfect. The beauty of writing is that it’s beautifully imperfect!)

Here are three tips to make the self-editing process a little more bearable.

A hazy photo of a person writing on a computer screen, seen through what appears to be the leaves of a houseplant
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1. Take a break

Unless you’re on a time crunch, it’s important not to edit your work as soon as you finish it. You’re still emotionally attached to that first draft, so you’ll either be blind to its flaws or so horrified by them that you’ll want to give up writing forever. Neither option is ideal!

Try to take at least 24-28 hours away from your current project if it’s possible. Spend some of that time doing things you enjoy that are completely unrelated to writing, like playing video games or going for a run. This way you’ll come back to your piece with a clear mind and can see it with fresh eyes.

Then get to work!

A young person sitting across from someone at a table outdoors, editing a manuscript.
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2. Read it out loud

Our brain processes auditory information differently than written information. We may catch an error while we’re listening to something that we wouldn’t catch while reading that same thing — and vice versa.

When skimming through something you’ve written yourself, you tend to read it the way you meant to write it. Your eyes might skip over that misspelled word or automatically correct that grammar mistake.

That’s why reading your work aloud is a great alternative! It forces you to slow down and really notice the words on the page.

Even better, ask a friend or family member to read your writing aloud to you. This way you’re only doing the listening!

A young woman holding a white mug and writing/editing on a laptop
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3. Edit one section at a time

It can be overwhelming to think about having to edit an entire paper or manuscript yourself. Just the thought of how much work it will be can make you want to curl up on the couch and scroll through TikTok instead, which will leave you even more stressed in the long run.

So don’t edit your entire paper or manuscript! Take one section at a time. For example, you can set a timer for 15 minutes and focus on two to three sentences. Then reset your timer and move onto the next set of sentences.

Another option is to use the Pomodoro method. With this technique, you work for a set period of time (ex. 25 minutes), take a break for a short period of time (ex. 5 minutes), then continue in that manner for the allotted time frame.

If you’re a perfectionist like many writers tend to be, it’s important to obey the timer. You can spend hours trying to make one phrase or sentence just right and miss out on the bigger picture, not to mention burn yourself out.

So take a deep breath, set that alarm or find a good Pomodoro video on YouTube, and get to work. It won’t be long before you’re polishing up that final sentence and wondering where the time went!

A close-up of a red typewriter with the words "rewrite... edit... rewrite... edit... rewrite" typed onto a sheet of paper
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What do you find to be the hardest part about editing your own writing? Let us know in the comments and look out for the next part of this blog post, where we’ll share three more tips on self-editing!

Want to improve your self-editing skills alongside your peers? Check out Write from the Heart’s 4-week grammar workshops for teens!

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