Thursday, 19 February 2015

Help for Those who Self-Edit

A Good Writer is not a Good Editor

As writers, if we cannot afford an editor, we must compensate for our shortcomings. We write. We check our latest masterpiece carefully. We publish. Then we see a mistake and need to edit it. We assume our job is done.

Then, weeks later we are surprised by another mistake in the same article.

Years later we look at the same piece and consider it  poorly written. We wonder how we missed all the mistakes we have just seen.

Unfortunately, a brilliant writer can never be a great editor where their own work is concerned. However, there are ways to enable us to be "good enough." Most of us cannot, afford to pay an editor for blog posts and short articles, after all. Therefore we have to self-edit.

Using online editors

I use online editors, but I make them work for me, together with my knowledge of the English language. In writing this particular article, I have been back and forth between Papperater, which is my favourite, and Grammarly.

In between, I have been editing my work. You will find each particular grammar checker will give you a different impression of your writing. I have also paid for the professional version of ProWritingAid

 However, the aim is to use these to improve spelling, grammar, colloquialisms and wordiness. They also help me be sure that my content is unique. That is all.

They will not improve my style or the content of what I write. I need other resources to make my articles as near perfect as I can get.

A human editor picks out changes in style and identifies phrases that are hard to understand. They look at your article from the reader's point of view. In an ideal world we would all be able to pay a human editor. If you are self editing, you have to do what you can. That is why I record my articles and play them back.

Recording and playing back your article

If you can record your written article then this will help you see how it will come across to the reader. You may also be surprised at how many mistakes you pick up, or corrections you want to make as a result of this exercise.

I find this is the nearest I can get to having a human editor. It is my best editing tool. For this, I use a free recorder. Anyone recorder with good sound quality will do. I use Audacity, but you could also use the recorder on your phone.

If the article reads well, then this is what the reader will hear in their head. If it doesn't, then you know there are changes to be made.

Usually, the place you falter will be exactly the place you need to restructure or edit your article.

I recommend having your notebook and pencil ready so you can note where the mistakes are.

Read as if you are doing a radio broadcast. This will give you a great insight into what the reader will make of your masterpiece. Ask yourself "does this flow?"

Play the recording back several times and surprise yourself at the changes you need to make.

Know your editing blind spots

The brain can be deceptive. It causes us to think we have written something we have not. I frequently think I have written question marks where they need to go, only to find some weeks later I did not write them at all. I know therefore to be especially vigilant for absent question marks.

You may not have my problem, but you will have some blind spots of your own. Get to know the mistakes you commonly make.

It is amazing how many mistakes appear once we have published online. One way to counteract this is to make use of the preview mode before publishing.

Put the article into preview mode

Seeing a 'published' article will help you identify mistakes. I suspect it is easier to see them once we are a little removed from the actual process of writing. You may need to do this after leaving the article alone for a while.

Give the article a rest

Leave the article for several days and return to it. Giving your brain a rest may help it stop playing tricks on you. Print out the article. This will also reveal other mistakes. Even then, it is good to find an extra pair of human eyes

Use a friend

Get a friend to read the article, but beware, because friends are usually very complimentary and may not have as good a command of the English language as you might wish. They will also be afraid of offending you. You still need to check again after they have finished.

Don't become so obsessed with editing you lose creativity

Bear in mind that it is a combination of all the tricks that will improve your article, but that your creative talent is what will make the article "work" for the reader. Good writing is diminished by poor editing and proofreading, but not extinguished.

Publish before you lost hope

Thankfully, most places you can publish your article online also allow you to edit and republish your work. There comes a point where you have to assume you have done enough.

No book or article is perfect

After all, no book is perfect. I am often surprised at the mistakes I see in books sold at full price by well known publishers.

Most readers will forgive the odd slip up, but as writers we owe it to ourselves to do the very best we can, even if we have to self-edit