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Writing and Publishing

Self-Editing Tips for Writers

It’s hard to catch mistakes in our own writing. No matter how hard I try, I still miss a lot. With every piece I get back from an editor, I’m dismayed over the many errors I didn’t catch, even though I know better.

Of course, they also spot many mistakes I would have never caught, which is why I always use at least two editors for every book. Despite these shortcomings, editors often remark that my writing is clean. But given all their corrections, I’d hate to see a piece that wasn’t.

So how do we catch errors in our writing before sending it to an editor?

Edit from a printed copy: Many authors print their work and edit from a hard copy. One author says she touches the tip of her pen to each word as she reads it. Though this is a good idea, I don’t have that much patience. 

I don’t print my work. I’m too frugal (codename for cheap) and environmentally conscience to waste paper and ink printing each book multiple times. Therefore, I do all my editing onscreen, knowing I’d catch more errors if I scrutinized it in printed form as opposed to an electronic version.

Read Backwards: Though it seems nonsensical, I’ve heard writers who insist they read backward when proofing their work. I tried it—for about ten seconds—and gave up. I don’t get this technique, not at all.

Read Aloud: To combat my aversion to printing my work, I began reading it out loud. Though my wife gave me strange looks and mocked me, I caught many more errors with this approach. Unfortunately, since I knew what I intended to write, that’s often what I read, even though that’s not what I typed.

Use Text-to-Speech Software: An even more effective way to proof work is through text-to-speech software. That way my computer reads my words to me. I catch so many errors this way. It may be why editors often say my writing is clean. This method works for me and works well.

I use this approach when editing my work. I do so three times for each book. The first is before it goes to my developmental editor. The second is before it goes to my copy editor/proofreader. And the third is just before I publish it.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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