D is for Details

Dec 20, 2023 | Editing | 0 comments

So far this series has covered three main aspects of self-editing.

Part 1 (A is for Attitude) focused on preparation. No one’s perfect. All of us make mistakes and it doesn’t actually matter if we do, so long as we fix what’s gone wrong. If we can’t or won’t admit to a mistake, we can’t fix it. We need to have an honest and objective attitude to our writing that allows us to spot and not accept our own mistakes.

Part 2 (B is for Body Language) threw you into the deep end of stylistic or substantial editing. It got you working on the bare bones of body language: word usage and sentence structure. The aim is to produce clear and active writing that flows logically from one sentence to the next.

Part 3 (C is for Checklist) gave you a useful tool to depend on when you’re correcting the host of “mechanical” or copyediting mistakes still left in your text after the stylistic revision. These include spelling and punctuation and maybe also some new mistakes introduced during the rewriting phase.

Finally, this fourth part rounds off the series by revealing my professional edidextrous secrets. I have two simple yet truly effective tips that are guaranteed to solve a most important problem that must be solved in this final stage of self-editing: proofreading.

By now you will have read your text so often that you are extremely familiar with what you have written (and rewritten). Your brain knows exactly when certain words will appear in a certain order and, without realizing it, this means you may be seeing only what you expect to see and not what is actually on the page or screen. In turn, this means you risk skipping mistakes, usually tiny omissions (say, an apostrophe left out) or extra things left in in (repeats such as the the word).

You can harness your computer’s spelling and grammar checks to catch the things you might not notice. But you can’t rely only on that. My secret is to make your text appear new to yourself, so that your eagle editor’s eye and clever brain will respond afresh to the old familiar text as if you had never seen it before.

Detail #1 – Read through the text one last time purely for the sense of what you have written. Don’t read to yourself in silence. Read the text aloud from start to finish, or better still, ask someone else so that you can hear another voice reading what you’ve written. Listen carefully and if you notice the reader stumbling over an awkwardly worded phrase or because the meaning is not instantly clear, make a note to go back and look at how you can either smooth or clarify the rocky patches.

Detail #2 – You may not have time to read through the whole thing out loud. So change the way the text looks. Make a copy of your original document and alter the format of the copy. Do not repeat not change the format of the original because if something goes wrong at this late stage, you don’t want to waste time fixing things back to how they should be!

Change the font and size (say, from Times 12 pt to Calibri 10 pt), give the letters a color instead of boring old black, and adjust your line spacing. The words now jumping off your screen or page will seem totally different. This will help you spot those “tiny terrors” that if left in would make all the difference between shoddy and professional quality. Finally, don’t forget to find and fix these last bloopers in your original document.

Once you’ve done that, well done! You’ve added the finished touches to your story. Now you can send it out into the world knowing you have done your utter best self-editing to produce a piece of writing of professional standard. Go for it!


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