The concept of self-editing is not something that professional copyeditors should fear, nor is it something penny-pinching writers should embrace. There is no substitute for having a competent third party look over a manuscript. But there are times self-editing is necessary, and some self-editing tips and techniques can help even experienced copyeditors avoid embarrassing gaffes.
Actually, everyone self-edits to some extent, and the more they do the better. Even those of us whose bread and butter involves editing copy would rather not spend our time trying to read the minds of authors who never read what they have written. Initial self-editing makes for a smoother editing process.
The idea of a distinct writing phase and editing phase doesn’t adequately describe the process. A writer must edit. An editor must think like the writer. But at some point, we need to take off the writer's hat and put on the editor's hat, approaching our document from a new perspective.
A few tips on the process:
- Read what you wrote.
- Change your mode to copy editor and read as if for the first time.
- Change your perspective: read out loud, print it out, read it on a different computer, change the appearance, read it after a break.
- For a long piece, take a break again once you find yourself slipping back into writer mode.
Step one in self-editing, reading what you have written, may seem obvious, but it’s clear that many authors don’t bother. It’s better to take a break rather than finishing the last sentence and immediately going back to the top. If you’re pressed for time and that’s your only option, by all means do this. Any sort of read is better than none. But it’s better if we can remove ourselves from the process for a moment. The goal is to approach self-editing as an outside reader.