It is so difficult to edit your own work—I certainly avoid it at all costs. But unfortunately, we don’t always have a choice in the matter, whether due to time, finances, or some other hindrance. Therefore, I’m writing up my top tips to help you better edit your own work!
- Build yourself a style guide. If you’re not sure how, check out my post on Tips for: Style Guides. Ideally, you started building a style guide the second you began this project and updated it throughout, but life isn’t always ideal. So if you’ve finished your manuscript and you’re ready to start reviewing but you don’t have a style guide yet, make one! Now! No, like, right now. Minimize this tab and do it. It will make your job so much easier and eliminate the need for all the scrolling you do to try and answer the “Wait, is that how I spelled this 12 chapters ago? Hold on, did I always capitalize this term??” question!
- Give yourself time. I know sometimes we’re on a deadline and this isn’t possible, but if you can, don’t touch the project for at least a week. Let your brain forget things; give yourself space from the words. Then, go back in with fresh eyes and a clear head.
- Change up your document. Your brain is designed to ignore repetitive information—this is great to prevent it from overloading when you’re walking through a room you’ve been in a thousand times before and therefore don’t need to notice every single detail of it. You know what it’s not great for, though? Reviewing that same document you’ve been staring at for hours (days? weeks? months?). Your brain is used to everything exactly as it is, so it will gloss right over all of the typos and missing periods. So before you start revising, open up your manuscript and make some adjustments:
- Font type: If you used a serif font (like Times New Roman or the one you’re reading right now, with the little lines attached to the letters), switch to a sans serif (like Arial or, no joke, Comic Sans, with no lines on the letters). I do not recommend using “fun” fonts like cursives, as these can have the opposite effect and make it harder for you to read.
- Font size: Increase your font size! If you were working around 12 pt, I’d recommend 16 or 18 (depending on how big your document is).
- Document color: In Word, it’s Design>Page Color. On Google Docs, it’s File>Page Setup>Page Color. I recommend a low-opacity color in a cool tone (e.g. a soft green, purple or blue)—they’re gentle on your eyes yet still distinct from the white background you’re used to.
- Literally any other adjustments you can think of that won’t make your document illegible.
- Change up your environment. If you usually work at your desk, on your couch, at your kitchen table, etc., then pick a different place (preferably a different room, but do as much as you can manage) to work on your revisions. This is just another way to rewire your brain and help you notice more details.
- If you live in a tiny studio apartment and this is difficult for you, go to a library or a coffee shop (y’know, when we’re not in a global pandemic). Although, if you have a car or live somewhere warm, many libraries are providing free wifi 24/7 in their parking lots!
- Read it out loud. Read your document out loud to yourself—this might not directly help you figure out grammatical errors, but it will slow you down so your brain skips over less and processes the words better.
- Use the Find/Replace function. I’ve never heard of a word processor that doesn’t have one, and let me tell you, it is your best friend. You can get fancy with it, making it case-sensitive and adding spaces or hyphens on either side of the term you’re looking for to isolate it in particular environments. This feature is good for:
- Making sure you did not double-space between sentences (Find: “. ” and replace with “. “).
- Confirming every instance of a term adheres to your style guide (type in all the ways you usually spell a term and see what yields results).
- Seeing if you over-use certain words/phrases (e.g. orbs, breath, gaze, or any phrase you think you might have used a lot).
- Tip: do not use the “replace all” function. Even if you have 240 results. You will accidentally replace the wrong thing, almost guaranteed. Take Murphy’s Law into account, and just go one at a time.
If you’re still struggling and you can afford it, get yourself an editor! We can look at your work with fresh eyes and are trained to find the errors you might be missing. (My services are currently open, if you’re looking.)
Happy writing. You got this.