Can You Edit Your Own Writing?

One of the most commonly discussed issues in writing is whether or not writers can self-edit their writing.

While I truly believe writers need editors, I also believe writers can improve their writing by learning some self-editing techniques.

Your writing reflects you. You shouldn’t allow an editor to change your voice or your intent. And you should allow an editor to make you look good.

Here are some things to get you started in editing your own writing.

  • Be honest about what your writing weaknesses are. If you know you go comma crazy, learn the rules for inserting commas (“because this is where I took a breath” is not a rule). If you know you’ve got spelling issues, use your spell checker but understand spell checkers don’t catch every error, which means you need a dictionary too.
  • Put yourself in your reader’s position, then ask if what you wrote is clear to the reader. Ask if what you wrote clearly says what you intended the reader to know.
  • Make sure you include only one idea per paragraph. I wrote on topic sentences in an earlier post, so won’t belabor the issue here.
  • Look for redundancy. Check to see if you unnecessarily repeated yourself or if you overused a favorite word or phrase.
  • Analyze your sentence structure. Do you have some short sentences and some compound sentences? Do you always start with I or The or do you vary how you begin your sentences?
  • Look for parallel structure in your sentences. Here’s an example of parallel structure: Jimmy went skiing on Friday, swimming on Saturday, and sailing on Sunday. (All the verbs are “ing” verb.) Here’s an example of a sentence that doesn’t have parallel structure: Jimmy went skiing on Friday, to the beach on Saturday, and he decided to sleep all day Sunday.
  • Buy and use a grammar book. Browse your writing reference section of your bookstore and find a grammar book that’s friendly to your preference of looking things up.  Since we’ve become PC (politically correct), we’ve made it harder to write with subject/verb agreement. That is, we use the gender neutral, plural subject (they, for example) with the singular verb. Every grammarian knows that’s incorrect English, but it’s easy, so writers do it anyway. There may be a time when it’s acceptable, but we’re not at that time yet. Better to rewrite the sentence and assure you have subject/verb agreement.

Can you edit your own writing? Yes, you can, but it’s a lot of work. It may be easier to get someone else who loves the language to help you. As always, you have a choice, so make it a good one.

Happy writing!

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