Oh dear. Unless it’s 2 a.m. or something, I self-edit even email messages and stuff. So, by the time it comes to publication of my writing, I’ve been over and over it at least 20 times, looking for the slightest fault. Obsessives of the world, unite!
Mind you, I can be approximately 100% accurate when line editing someone else’s words, but still miss slips of the keyboard in my own. This is the reason that everyone needs an external eye, who can be a paid editor, or you can use critique exchanges with other editors or writers you respect. I had such beta reads by eight people for my latest book, From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide.
Then my publisher had it edited again. I was pleased to note that while there were recommendations for change in things like chapter titles and order of content, there were few if any technical issues.
In order to make this post useful for others, so I can have the pleasure of being of service, I’ll list here a little of the advice I often give to my editing clients.
Let it get cold
When I re-read something of mine I haven’t looked at for months or even years, I DO spot the odd mis-spelling, or extra space that shouldn’t be there, or perhaps an Australian turn of phrase in a book otherwise written in American. So, unless a deadline is hanging over your shoulder, put the book away for a while, and get on with some other project. After a month or more, you should be able to read it as if it were someone else’s writing — and find the faults.
Read it aloud
Different aspects of attention are involved in reading silently and reading aloud. All prose is poetry. You will pick up awkward, convoluted sentences, and those that are too long. You’ll think again about where to put commas, and find the sentences that need an exclamation or question mark. Sometimes, prose has unintended rhymes, which sound ridiculous.
While doing this, you should focus on homophones: words that sound similar but have different meanings, for example were-where, which-witch, s aid-said, saga-sage. I have files with tens of thousands of such amusing word confusions.
Divorce words from their meaning
There are various ways of doing this. I don’t need them, but often advise people to read their work from the end toward the front, one sentence at a time. The rationale of this trick is that we skip over our writing errors because we get immersed in the content. If what you read becomes a fairly meaningless sequence of sentences, it is easier to spot the mistakes.
Ensure you have relevant knowledge
None of this is any good if you don’t know what you are looking for. Writing is both an art and a craft or trade. A potter who needs someone else to decide on oven temperature is not much of a craftsperson. I wouldn’t trust a carpenter who uses a chisel to turn a screw.
Our tools as writers are grammar, punctuation, word meaning. Become competent in these aspects. There is no excuse for confusing lie with lay, safe with harmless, spit with spat. You shouldn’t have a comma between the subject and verb of a sentence. There is no excuse for dangling participles, or using a gerund where a verb is needed. And if you don’t know what I mean, start your relevant education by looking up these terms.
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