Wick Communications

Four tips for self-editing that may not be self-evident

In Editing on March 30, 2012 at 9:01 am

Editing your own copy is hard. Really hard. Almost impossible. Just the other day the CEO of Wick Communications had to tell me I botched the common me/I thing  (Will Chapman asked Bill Murray and me… not I) in a memo that I gleefully sent around the horn. It was downright embarrassing.

Such mistakes can be almost unavoidable. The reason we write the way we do is that it looks right to our eyes to begin with. Ferreting out mistakes is difficult for obvious reasons. I’m sure that loyal readers of The Kicker have found numerous spelling and grammar mistakes over the years.

Please accept this apology and a couple of tips that may help you do a better job. (I assure you I am taking these tips to heart.)

No surprise: there is lots of help online. The best collection of tips I saw may have been copywriter Anna Goldsmith’s from copyblogger.com. I particularly love this line:

Remember that black flatters figures, but white flatters writing: Nothing is more daunting to a reader than a dense block of text. Add some breathing room with white space between paragraphs, bold subheads and (where appropriate) bullet points. …

I am more apt to accept writing tips when it comes from a good writer. And I think she is completely correct.

Freelancers are certainly faced with the problem of self-editing all the time. Here is a collection of tips specifically designed for those with no real editor.

I think all of these are good ideas. Here’s my take on some of the best:

Come back to it. I think it makes sense to get up and walk around or put your work aside for a while before taking a stab at an edit. Whenever possible, it helps me to sleep on it. Sometimes stories just “sound” different to my ear the next day. It’s a particularly good idea if you are writing a stinging editorial. See how it looks once you cool down.

Consider the source. Forget the structure of the thing for a moment. Your writing may be perceived differently by sources, those with some skin in the game and by readers who come to the subject fresh, without any preconceived notions. How will the words you write come across to these different constituencies? Have you been fair? Are there points that missed the first draft but may be worth making?

Mix the medium. If I’m working on the computer, I like to see a printed paper version of my work whenever possible. I don’t know why, but sometimes mistakes jump out at me when I see my work in a different format.

Take it slow. Read word by word, even letter by letter. It’s actually kind of hard to do, but try it. I have known editors who suggested reading your copy backward. I never mastered that, but give it a try.

Clay

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