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Self-Editing Tips to Clean Up Your Prose

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5 Simple Self-Editing Tips to Clean Up Your Prose

By Melinda Copp

Okay, you’re finished with your first draft. Congratulations—that in itself is a big accomplishment. However, don’t celebrate for too long because all first drafts need a good clean-up before they’re ready for the reading world.

When it comes to self-editing, writers often struggle for a number of reasons—they can’t view their writing objectively, they have no idea what to look for, and they become frustrated when the work isn’t perfect, just to name a few.  The key to self-editing is being able to shift from the creative, writing mindset to the analytical editor mindset, which takes practice. But here are five tips for getting you started.

1. Give Yourself Some Space

Editing isn’t always easy work, and most people are best at it after taking time away from the project. Even just a few days will give you new perspective and a better idea of what needs to be done. Therefore, the first step in the editing process is to take time off. Set your draft aside and don’t even think about it for at least twenty-four hours. 

2. Read in a Different Format

When most of us write, we do it on the computer—that means the only way we see our words is on the screen. Printing the draft out and reading the hardcopy will help your brain shift gears. You can move away from your writing space (computer desk, kitchen table, or where ever you write) and curl up on the couch with your red pen and read with completely different intentions in mind.

3. Use a Style Guide

Self-editing requires you to look at the details as well as the big picture. For the details, the best way to avoid making mistakes and creating inconsistencies is to use a style guide, such as The Chicago Manual of Style (which is most often used by book publishers and magazines) or The Associated Press Stylebook (the newspaper world standard). These guides make grammar, punctuation, and style decisions easy for writers, especially if your grammar is a little rusty. When you’re not sure if you need a comma, just look it up.

4. Read Your Draft Out Loud

Your words may look right on the page—especially to you, the writer. But reading your work out loud will let you know if your words sound right, too. Reading aloud will help you hear overused phrases, awkward sentence constructions, and clumsy phrases that you may not be able to catch when you look at them on the page.

5. Balance the Whole

While you’re looking at the details of your writing—the grammar, punctuation, wording, etc.—you also need to be conscious of the draft as a whole. One of the easiest ways to get a sense of where your draft may be unbalanced is to look at the piece visually. If you’re writing an article, make sure your subsections are all about the same length, and if you’re writing a book, look at the sizes of your chapters. Of course, these don’t always have to be the same length, but when one chapter or subsection stands out because it’s either much shorter or longer than all the others, make sure the material warrants the difference and it wasn’t a subconscious mistake.

Cleaning Your Prose

Writing and editing are two very different processes, and moving from one task to another requires a shift in your mindset. When you use these tips for getting into the editing mood, you’ll be on your way to your final draft in no time!

About the Author:

Melinda Copp is a writing coach, book editor, and ghostwriter who specializes in helping aspiring authors achieve their writing goals. Click here to sign up for her e-zine, and get a free special report!

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