Sometimes, one of the toughest things for a writer to do is edit their own work. It's not because they are not good at editing, but more because they have stared at that one piece of writing for so long, the mistakes just don't stand out. While sending your work to an editor is best, here are some ways to get the most out of editing your writing.
Avoid editing while you write. Killing two birds with one stone doesn't always have the best results, especially when it comes to writing and editing simultaneously. Nothing hurts the creative flow like stopping to figure out whether you need a colon or a semicolon, or whether the moment calls for who or whom. Write your first draft without concern for the minor details to get the ideas flowing, and then move on to the self-editing process.
Distance yourself from your work. Assuming you are not close to a looming deadline, one of the best ways to self-edit is to give yourself a little space from your work. A 24-hour break in between writing the last word and editing the first sentence can make a big difference in how well the little mistakes will start to stick out like a sore thumb.
If you don't have 24 hours, then do something different for an hour between finishing the first draft and beginning the editing process. Take a nice walk outside, grab a healthy meal or snack, or play with your kids or your pets. Whatever you choose to do, don't keep writing. This will clear your mind and make the editing easier.
Print it. Sorry trees. Sometimes the easiest way to get great editing done is to take your work off of the computer, grab a red ink pen, and start marking up your errors. The beauty of this approach is you give your eyes a rest from the computer screen, and you get the opportunity to take your work out into the world. A refreshing, peaceful environment like your backyard or a local park can help energize your mind, making the editing process flow a lot smoother.
Read it out loud. Simply reading your work out loud can help make writing snafus easier to spot. If you are editing a book, reading the whole thing out loud might sound overwhelming, so break up the task into chapters. Depending on your due date, try just reading three chapters a day — one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. Also, be sure to read it slowly as to note the pauses with punctuation to make sure your commas are in order.
Rewrite it. This might only be an option for shorter pieces of work, but retyping your writing has a way of making problems reveal themselves. Or switch styles — if you handwrote the piece, then type it, or vice versa.
Focus on one set of issues at a time. The trouble with editing when you're not an editor by trade is trying to catch all of the problems at once. Instead, try going through your work and focusing on one set of errors — grammatical errors, spelling errors that Word doesn't catch (such as typing witch when you mean which), and the things that don't make sense (like the times you started a thought and forgot to finish it).
By taking this approach, you will get each set of errors taken care of thoroughly, as opposed to getting distracted by one set of errors and overlooking another.
Stay calm. Editing can be frustrating, especially if you start to beat up on yourself about the mistakes that you made. Keep in mind that mistakes happen, even to the best writers. Manuscripts that have gone through several stages of professional editing get published and put on the shelves with a typo or three. Just relax, laugh at yourself a little, and move on.
Get someone else to read it. You don't always have to have a professional editor to help you with the editing process. If you know someone who enjoys reading — maybe a family member or a friend — have him or her take a stab at it. He or she will likely catch any glaring errors and ask you about anything that doesn't make sense. This can help direct you to problem areas of your work that need some extra attention.