Don’t think of yourself as “a writer?” You may not have to spend your whole day word-smithing, but you do sometimes need to write things that others read: a follow-up email to a prospective client; your brand-building blog; answers to questions for a magazine interview via email; a bio for your web site; a cover letter to seek employment; or, the Preface to your book. Just as you wouldn’t want to appear in public with shirt buttons missing or your skirt on inside out, you’d be wise to be mindful and tidy up your writing before sharing it. Check it over before showing it to one or more people you’d hate to disappoint or mislead into judging you as an illiterate or careless person—because, often, they will.
I realize I’m sounding like a stern schoolmarm, but really, some of you need to stop slouching…thank you.
Implement these three practices for self-editing and you WILL improve your finished product.
- Give yourself time and space. Know up front that you will need time (preferably at least 24 hours) to let your first draft sit while you’re otherwise engaged. When you return, it will be with a fresh perspective, including objectivity. When possible, make it a goal to get to a third review and edit session, which is often where clarity, creative ideas, and powerful writing will emerge.
- Clarify your purpose. It won’t matter that you’ve spelled-checked and asked Grammar Girl to personally review your work if the overall piece misses the mark. What are you trying to achieve? Have you focused on ONE key point?
- Listen. By using a text-to-speech editor or by reading it out loud to yourself, you WILL pick up on where you need to simplify, cut out unnecessary words or sections, catch errors, and re-order the content for better flow.
Cross Your “t’s” and Double Your Eyes
Depending on the nature of the piece, sometimes you need to expand your “self-editing” by asking others for assistance. A colleague or friend can provide invaluable feedback. Some are great at spotting grammar errors, while others can give you honest feedback about confusing vs. clear sentences. Then there are times when you simply must get a professional editor or proofreader, especially if you need to impress a schoolmarm.