Learning to Edit: Simple Guidelines for Better Writing

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Learning to Edit: Simple Guidelines for Better Writing

learning to edit

Learning to edit your own work is one of the most important things you can do for your writing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s recommended to always have your work edited by a professional editor before setting it free into the world. But tightening your prose ahead of this step will help you look more professional and help you learn to write better.

There are many kinds of edits. Arlene Prunkl, a professional editor, has a wonderful explanation of all these on her website.  After your work is complete, go back through your document and check for properly placed page breaks, punctuation, margins, links and so on. Here are two resources to help you determine correct manuscript format. The first is from an editors’ blog, the second is from William Shun, a writer is his own right. He has formatting resources for short stories, poems, and other literary devices as well as novels.

The crux of my post today centers on copy and line, or stylistic, editing. Most editors don’t lump these together, but I do. Copy editing is concerned with proper grammar, spelling and sentence structure and line editing concerns sentence structure and style. Those attributes are difficult to separate, in my experience, and I’ve spent years as a professional editor. Learning to edit your copy and structure will provide a window to your natural writing style and help you pick up on repetitive errors.

For example, while editing my work, I found there are two things I  do often that impede my writing. The first is using passive voice and the second is being too wordy and using filler words that don’t add value to my prose.

Learning to Edit

Not everyone is a grammar or style wizard, especially if you’re new to writing. Don’t worry, tools like these can help. Here are three I recommend.

Grammarly: This tool requires a subscription, but if you’re a new writer it may be worth it. It scans grammar, spelling, and plagiarism and makes suggestions to help you rewrite concisely. That being said, it also makes mistakes. It’s often misunderstood a word within one of my sentences and suggested an inappropriate replacement.

Hemingway Editor: I love Hemingway! It counts your adverbs and recommends maximum usage, checks for passive voice, looks for places where you can simplify phrases, and scores your writing by grade level. You can write within the application and then edit or copy and paste your text from another document. There is a free version, but I recommend you pay the $20 and own it.

Passive Voice Checker: Here’s another free tool. This site offers grammar and readability checking as well.

Recommended Editing Format

When learning to edit your own work, stick to a logical plan of action.

First, run spell-check on your document. This is free and easy with any word processing program you’re using. It won’t catch homonym mistakes (there/their), though, so be on the lookout for those as your complete your other edits.

Now, run your text through one of the helpful tools I’ve outlined. Here’s a screenshot of part this blog post before going through Hemingway. The blue is adverb use, the green is passive voice, pink is complex phrasing, and yellow and red are hard to read passages. Compare it with the actual text, above.

After you’ve cleaned up your text using recommendations from one of these editing tools, put it aside. Let it rest for a day or two or even three so you can look at it with ‘fresh eyes’ the next time you read through.

This time, you’ll read for style. Do the sentences flow? Do they transition well from one to the next or are they abrupt? This is a personal thing, but if you’re a reader as well as a writer, you’ll be able to tell if you’ve got the rhythm right.

Finally, perform  your proofreading. Do another spell-check. Look for punctuation errors. Adjust the format as necessary: Use proper margins, line spacing, and headings.

That’s It!

You’re done! The more often you use the tools, above, the more you’ll begin to notice the mistakes you make on a regular basis and be able to avoid them. Your writing will get tighter, cleaner, and more compelling.

Don’t forget to use a professional editor after conducting your own edits. Their input is invaluable. They can double-check your copy/line work, add developmental or structural comments, and make sure your manuscript is putting its best face forward to an agent, publisher, or your reading public.

See you on the next page!

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