Next to writing the actual words, your most important job as a writer is to edit your work. Good editing makes all the difference between writing and really good writing. However, many writers find it tedious—they like only the buzz they get from the actual process of writing. Also, just as many writers don’t really know what editing is all about. They think they know based on corrections made by English teachers when they were in school, but this is far from the editing needed to make a writer’s work look professional.
First and foremost, before doing any editing, step away from your work. Let it sit idle for at least a day or several. The longer you refrain from looking at it, the better. Your mind will forget about it eventually, so when you do look at it again, you’ll see it in a new light.
Editing is much more than just correcting mechanical errors—spelling, punctuation, verb tense, pronoun agreement, and general sentence structure. Editing deals with the content of your piece. Does it make sense? Is the flow logical? Are your words familiar enough for all readers? (See my previous blog on using $20 words).
Whatever you’ve written, you’ve done so to express yourself on a particular topic. Have you done that? Will that be clear to your reader? Clarity is the number one problem with most poorly edited writing. Remember, your reader can’t phone you or send you an E-mail to ask what something means.
Generally, editing consists of four jobs: deleting, rearranging, rewriting, and correcting.
First read through your work and delete any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph that doesn’t belong. If you can eliminate the word and there's no loss of meaning, then eliminate it.
If you haven’t looked at your work for a while, you may notice that some parts need to be rearranged for better continuity. Readers won’t make the leap, so don’t expect them to figure out what you mean. Make your writing logical. If you’re not telling your story chronologically, make sure you won’t lose your reader in the process.
After you delete parts or whole sections and rearrange others, you’ll most likely have holes to fill, so you’ll have to rewrite some parts to make sure they read well and make sense. In this editing phase, you may also want to check for smooth paragraph transitions. These help your writing to flow effortlessly from paragraph to paragraph.
Lastly, and only then, correct any errors in spelling, punctuation, verb tenses, and pronoun agreement.
Once you’ve edited your article, short story, or book, it may be time to let someone else have a crack at it, especially if it’s a book. Find someone who is a serious reader to go over it in detail. Better yet, hire a professional book editor. With the ease of self-publishing for Kindle or Nook, too many writers today are trying to sell what amounts to writing trash. Make sure whatever you sell is the best it can be before you put it on the market.