Writing Tips (Part 3): 5 Tips For Improving Your Editing Skills

Writing tips - 5 tips to improve your editing skills. Read more at illuminatewriting.com

Editor’s Note: This is part 3 of a 3-part series featuring tips to improve your writing.

Words by Jenni Cannariato

In part one of this series, I discussed five developmental errors that I see in my work as an editor (in other words, the big, overarching, structural issues of a piece). In part two, I shared my #wordnerd self in all her glory (i.e., how to add polish to your writing by catching grammatical errors).

But how do we approach the actual work of editing? What methods and practices can we use to become good editors of our own writing?

Here are five tips for improving editing skills:

1.      Write the whole piece from beginning to end, without editing.

Some elements of writing legitimately don’t appear until the first draft is complete. I sometimes don’t know the main point or the main metaphor of my piece until I actually write it (even if I think I’ve got it figured out beforehand).

When you continually stop to edit yourself in the middle of writing your rough drafts, you can miss out on your best stuff. Not only that, but it takes forever just to get a piece written. Instead, type out some awful stuff, knowing that you are going to come back and clean it up. This is writing, in all its messy, glorious rawness.

2.      Once the whole piece is written, do a couple rounds of editing.

Don’t try to catch all the errors and fix the development of the piece in one round of editing. Commit to at least one round of developmental editing (the big stuff—central idea, main metaphor, showing vs. telling, etc.). Then, commit to at least one round of proofreading (the #wordnerd stuff—punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc.). And, depending on the piece, you may need other rounds of editing to focus on other elements. Maybe you need one round of editing just to eliminate extraneous adjectives.

3.      Read it out loud, read it backwards, print it out—whatever you have to do.

The human eye is amazing. It’s currently giving you the ability to stlil undrestadn tsih sentcne. Our eyes don’t actually “read” every single letter, which is brilliant for reading but not so great for editing. As an editor, I have to develop tricks and habits that get my eyes to focus on every single letter.

Depending on what works for you, whether it be editing the piece from end to beginning, reading it out loud, or printing it out and editing with pen in hand, find a practice that gets your eyes to notice the little details.

4.      Give yourself time.

Unless you’re on a really tight deadline, don’t try to fit writing the rough draft and multiple rounds of edits into the same block of time. Space out your writing and editing. Write a piece and then come back to edit it in a couple days.

Writers do the bold work of baring their souls and deep thoughts to the world, all through black and white squiggles on a page. Developing the objectivity we need as writers to kill our darlings is brutal. But time helps.

I am able to see my writing more objectively, as a piece that needs polishing rather than a piece of my soul, if I’ve given it a little while, and my edits are all the better for the time that has passed since writing.

If you can, space out the time between your rounds of editing as well. You’ll be able to catch more, I promise.

5.      Get someone else to edit it.

No writer is an island. And we miss out on what our craft can become if we don’t allow anyone to provide us feedback. If this scares you, start with your best friend, your partner, your mom, your child’s babysitter—someone you know is going to make you feel awesome about your writing.

But ideally, find someone whose writing you really admire and see if he or she will take a look at one of your pieces. Find a writing group on Facebook, join a membership like illuminate (I promise they didn’t ask me to say this), or hire an editor. Just get your writing in front of someone else and ask for honest, constructive feedback.

Here’s the thing: your writing will always need editing. You’re never going to reach this ideal spot where your writing flows flawlessly out of your brain and heart onto the screen or page. That’s not writing.

Writing is raw. It’s messy. And it always needs editing. This is writing.

But working on your editing skills will help you produce polished pieces that allow your craft, and your heart, to shine. You’ll no longer be producing decent pieces. You’ll be producing masterpieces.

Further Reading:
- Writing Tips (Part 1): 5 Common Developmental Errors in Nonfiction
- Writing Tips (Part 2): 5 Writing Mistakes You Don't Realize You're Making

About the Author:

When Jenni isn’t writing, editing, or gulping down the words of another great story, she can be found chasing her toddler, loving on her husband, stretching it out on a yoga mat, or hiking through the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest. Her friendship can always be won with a good cup of coffee, some quality time and deep conversation, or a square of dark chocolate - preferably all three. Learn more here.