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How To Be Your Own Editor

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There is a stigma associated with writers turning to editors for assistance with their work. Some people see outside editing as an unfair advantage, a form of literary cheating. Writers are expected to be able to evaluate their own work objectively. Interestingly, this is exactly the opposite of what one finds in other professions. Witness the famous phrase, “A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” Let’s not forget, “A lawyer who represents herself has a fool for a client.” Writers are treated differently from these other professionals, though. Writers are somehow expected to turn in perfect drafts of novels, articles, work reports, and term papers. Their work must be edited before it is turned in. Anything less is considered unprofessional and unacceptable.

Here’s the twist in this story. Best-selling authors, magazine writers, and newspaper columnists all have editors! That’s right, perfection is only required ahead of time from students, business people, and unknown writers. Those who have “arrived” suddenly benefit from editorial guidance and second opinions on their work before it reaches its final audience.

What’s wrong with this picture? What’s a writer who is still in school or hasn’t yet been published to do? One option is to ignore the naysayers. Go right ahead and get help on writing projects before they are submitted. Ask a friend or a relative who has a firm grasp of grammar and writes well if he or she will edit or at least proofread your work. If nobody in your immediate social circle qualifies, there are many people and companies offering proofreading and editing services. If time and budget allow, take advantage of them.

What about when circumstances force a writer to tough it out alone before turning in the work? If you’re forced to take written matters into your own hands, here are the things to look for while acting as your own editor.

  • Spelling – Run spell check, but don’t rely on it exclusively. Look up words if you are unsure about them, even if the software approves them. Never think, “That’s close enough,” or “They won’t notice,” or “A few spelling mistakes are acceptable.” If you’ve been the victim of an educational class or system that told you that spelling doesn’t count, then whoever told you that has done you a disservice. Spelling counts!
  • Grammar – Many people advise that you make sure what you write matches the way you speak. That will work if you speak all the time correctly. If not, you can easily review grammar lessons online at no cost if you need a refresher.
  • Punctuation – Make sure you put in all the apostrophes and quotes necessary. Double-check to make sure you ended interrogative questions with question marks. It’s easy to just type a period at the end of all the sentences out of habit.
  • Typos – Blame the gremlin that hides in your keyboard if you want to, but fix them anyway. Even though people will probably know what you meant to type, don’t make them guess.
  • Clarity – When a writer knows what he is saying, he sometimes overlooks other possible interpretations. “The mother checked on the baby while she was crying.” Who was crying in that sentence? It could be either one of them. “All the tabloids had to say that the Hollywood couple filed for divorce.” Does that mean that there were multiple tabloids and each and everyone reported the same story or does that mean that there were no other details available and the tabloids simply had only that one fact to report?
  • Consistency – Verify that whenever there are two or more acceptable forms of the same word, the same form should be used every time throughout the piece. Examples to watch for are TV/television and USA/U.S.A/US of A.
  • Organization – Make sure your thoughts flow logically and each idea builds upon the one before it. You can’t make your point if nobody can find it!
  • Word usage – All forms of communication should fit their audiences. The way a person expresses herself at a Super Bowl party should be different than in a formal written report to her boss.

Scanning your work projects or term papers for these different areas will not only improve the particular assignment on which you’re working, but the process also sets your brain on the right path for future writing projects as well. Maybe your readers will be saying, “A writer who has himself for an editor just may be on to something.”

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