This post originally appeared on the Writers Anonymous blog.
As writers, we all struggle with editing our own work. We know what we intended to say, so often our eyes see our intentions in place of what is actually there.
Is all lost? Are we completely unable to edit our own work? Are we forever reliant on the assistance of others?
At some point, we are reliant on others to edit our work. Besides reading our work with fresh eyes, others also bring a world of experience that is different than ours. Others also read our work with (perhaps) different goals in mind–for example, perhaps I intend a piece to be entertaining, and a reader believes the same piece (at least at first) to be educational. These different perspectives change how our work is interpreted, so we may not get our intended message to the reader.
However, there are several techniques we can use to look at our own writing through fresh eyes. I have used each of these techniques with varying degrees of success, and have found them to be successful at finding different types of errors.
1. Change your work’s appearance
By changing the size, color, or font of your work, you force yourself out of the familiar feel of your favorite font. Suddenly, words that fit poorly with the flow of the rest of your article, story, or other work pop out due to the changed appearance. The best font to use is one that changes which words are on the edge of a page–so, as an example, you might use a fixed-width font like Courier instead of your typical variable-width font like Times New Roman.
This method is best used for looking at the general flow of your article and making sure that it makes sense. You may also find that this method helps find double word errors, such as “the the” or “of of”.
2. Give yourself some time
The worst time to edit is immediately after you’ve finished writing a piece. At this point, everything is still clear in your mind, so you’re more likely to fill in holes with what you intended to say.
Instead, go out for a walk, a cup of coffee, read a book, or just about anything to get your mind off what you just wrote. For best results, you should stay away from what you wrote for at least an hour, and preferably as long as a day.
Once you get back, use this in combination with one of the other strategies to make sure that you are looking at your work in a different mindset than when you wrote it.