There are two separate and distinct groups of people in this world: writers and editors. In most cases, a writer needs to be a passable editor to be effective and vice versa. But for many people who put ourselves in the writer’s camp, there’s a big problem. When you have to edit yourself, you have to read what you wrote. Sometimes, that can be a horror beyond imagining, like listening to your own voice on a tape recorder. But if you ever hope to be an effective writer, you’ve got to get over the horror of reading your own words and find some way of self editing. Here are some of my tips and tricks for, *gulp*, editing myself.

  • You are not your work. Writing, even business writing, is still a little piece of yourself. Many people have a hard time divorcing themselves from their work and accepting that criticism, even self-criticism, of their work is not the same as being a bad person or even a bad writer. Separate yourself from your work and acknowledge that no one’s perfect. Then attack your edits viciously with a red pen.
  • Sleep on it. Whenever possible, put some distance between yourself and the piece that needs editing. That way it becomes less personal; heck, wait long enough and you’ll forget what you wrote, which makes the whole experience so much more pleasant. Of course, it’s not always possible to wait overnight to edit a piece. In that case, at least try to get up and walk around the office for a moment or work on something else before diving into your edits. You’ll come at it with fresh eyes and less awkwardness.
  • Read it aloud. This is one of the best tips to take your editing from meh to marvelous. Mutter it under your breath or recite it like “O Captain, My Captain!” Whatever works for you, do it. But speak the words. Hear the shape of them. You’ll notice awkward phrasings, repetitions and even those nefarious typos spell check won’t catch. Read the words and you’ll hear them anew.
  • Just freaking do it. Editing makes you sound smarter. Editing makes you look better. Editing helps you hone your thoughts until they’re sharp and perfect. Or as close to perfect as writing is ever apt to be. But look over your words, find ways to tweak, improve and fix. Your writing will be better, and you might find you even like your writing. Imagine that!

What are your favorite self-editing tips?

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