Tips & Techniques: Self-Editing

I’ve been back to work in the writing center for a couple weeks now, tutoring, so I thought I’d put together a few posts of tips and techniques that seem to crop up a lot with the students I see.

 I figured I’d lead off with self-editing.

For editing my own work, I’ve used a few different techniques and I’ve had students tell me about others that work well for them. So, without further ado . . .

 1. Print versus Screen

I find the difference between print and screen reading is often helpful in identifying errors and putting a different spin on what I’m reading. This is especially the case since I can take the print copy into different environments, if I don’t want to tussle with iOS to get it transferred to my tablet.

2. Magnify on the Screen

Many students have told me that a trick they use to good effect is magnifying the text on the screen. In these cases, they’ll type in Word at 100% magnification, then do their editing at 125 or 150% magnification. The size change of the document helps them spot proofreading errors and missing words.

3. Read Out Loud

This is one of my favorite recommendations for students who come into the center. Reading the document out loud is helpful on a couple levels. First, reading out loud is slower than reading silently, so the mechanism forces us to read slower and more carefully. This, of course, helps us pick out missing words and typos. Second, reading out loud causes us to process the text more than reading silently. When we read silently, we process the words once. When we read out loud, we process the words visually, then convert them to vocalization, then hear them . . . so we process the words three times instead of one. And our ears often tell us when something sounds wrong, which usually indicates a missing word, problematic phrasing, or an incorrect word choice. Reading aloud to someone else can be especially helpful in this regard, as an extra set of ears.

4. Cover Passages (good for checking commas and pronouns [I vs. Me])

Physically covering up phrases can be very effective in determining a few issues. This is primarily useful, in my experience, for comma usage and first person pronoun usage. The short version: if the sentence makes sense without the covered phrase, then the phrase should have commas around it (because it is an interjection or bonus detail). If the sentence doesn’t make sense, then the commas are in the wrong place. Likewise, the use of I and me tends to confuse people. We are often told that the proper construction is “my sibling and I”, but this isn’t always true. What we have to do is read the sentence with “my sibling and” covered up, so reading it as I or me and determine which makes grammatical sense. For instance, “My brother and I ate sandwiches” is correct (“I ate sandwiches”), but “Our mom gave my brother and I sandwiches” is incorrect (“Mom gave I sandwiches”) and should be “Our mom gave sandwiches to me and my brother” (“Mom gave sandwiches to me”).

5. Read Backwards

A lot of things I’ve seen have also suggested reading the document backwards, e.g. starting at the last sentence of the last page and working toward the first. I’m not entirely sure of the effectiveness or usefulness, but apparently some swear by it. Could be worth a try.

Learning New Things

Still under the weather, so not a full post this week.  Instead, a few things I learned this week:

  1. Muslims have been part of the U.S. military in every major war the U.S. has ever been involved in.  Several were documented as members of the colonial army fighting the British in the Revolutionary War and nearly 300 died in the American Civil War (Captain Moses Osman was the highest ranking in the Civil War).
  2. Sikhs have been part of the U.S. military since WWI.
  3. Until 1980, men in the U.S. military were allowed to have beards while on active duty, Reagan changed that policy until it was reversed in the early-1990s.
  4. I really, really hate third person present perspective, especially when it shifts between limited and omniscient (editing job; more on this later).
  5. Being congested sucks, especially when you do your best fiction writing by hand . . . oops, sorry, already knew that.

Anyway, writing largely on hold as I’ve shifted back to handwriting all my fiction.

Editors? We Don’t Need No Editors: Actually, Yes We Do.

(With apologies to John Huston and Humphrey Bogart)

 I almost didn’t do a post this week due to illness (really didn’t feel like writing anything much). But then I started thinking about editors and editing.

 There’s a lot of talk out there, particularly on writer blogs and fora, arguing that editors are unnecessary.

I counter with a few thousand books, novellas, and stories (mostly self-published) that say otherwise.

 I’ve been on both sides of this as a writer of short fiction, peer reviewed articles, and a peer reviewed book and as a member of a journal editorial board, a journal editorial assistant, and a freelance content editor (including a couple jobs focused on helping the writer condense essays).

Editors serve a couple important functions depending on the type of editor.

First, they act as gatekeepers (acquisitions editors). This is a good thing. After all, roughly 98% of things that are written are awful. Roughly 99+% of self-published stuff (fiction and non-fiction) is awful (so is 99% of virtually everything). Consider this: Twilight and 50 Shades somehow made it through the editorial gatekeepers, true. But, they are a relative rarity. Imagine just how much horrible writing would get published by Tor, Baen, Random House, etc. if the acquisitions editors weren’t there. Yes, this means a few greats are potentially missed (at least for a time), but it also means that thousands of awful high school wannabe goth “poets” are not inflicted upon the masses.

Second, they act as readers who help writers polish their narrative or argument (content editors). Everyone can improve their writing, but we generally need someone else (not ourselves) to take a look at drafts with fresh eyes and with no knowledge of what we intended to say. I’m sure that everything most writers (myself included) put on paper makes perfect sense to the writer. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes sense to the audience. Nor is every scene, character, or argumentative point necessary, although many of us will argue that they are. Heinlein is a great example here. His first novels were edited and form nice, cohesive stories. Once he hit the point where anything he wrote sold, the editing stopped. At that point, his novels became big rambling beasts (Heinlein stated that his writing method was knowing the beginning, knowing the end, and letting the middle sort itself out as he went).

 Third, they act as spell/grammar checkers that are much more adaptable and accurate than anything in a word processor (copyeditors). Sadly, the professional, full time copyeditor (not freelance) seem to be dying or is already dead. Like the content editor, they are highly important as an extra set of eyes to ensure that what the writer created: a) makes sense, b) can be understood, and c) is actually what they meant to write. Some like to say, “Just focus on the story, that’s the important part, ignore the mechanics.” To that, I say, no. The mechanics are important. Why? Because without them, clarity becomes problematic. I don’t care how great your story, characters, or argument are if what you’ve written is unreadable because the mechanical elements are fracked/frelled. Copyeditors catch and fix the typos, the missing words, the misused words, the accidental changes in verb tense, and Favorite Word Syndrome.

 Does this mean that everyone needs a professional editor? No. But everyone does need someone who is conversant with the language and experienced at critiquing and editing other people’s work. And that is something that takes training and experience (not just, “My roommate’s a first year English major”, which means squat . . . take it from a one time “first year English major”).

 Why? Because an extra set of eyes, or two, helps us improve our writing. And, if we don’t improve, if we aren’t constantly learning, then we aren’t really practicing or serious about using the technology that is writing.

Editing Services

Putting this out there again

worldsinthenet

Self-Promotion Time

I’m looking for some freelance editing work, if anyone needs it or knows someone who does.

Experience:
10 years college level composition teaching
1 year writing tutor (college level)
6 years editorial board of a professional journal
several publications (journal articles, magazine articles, book)
experience with dissertations, college papers, novels, NASA manuals, technical writing, NEH grant proposals

Rates:
Based on experience, my rates are US$0.50 per page for copy editing to US$1.00 per page for content editing (based on MS Word pagination).

Contact info can be provided as necessary (or contact via my profile here).

Samples and references can be provided as desired.

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Editing Services

Self-Promotion Time

I’m looking for some freelance editing work, if anyone needs it or knows someone who does.

Experience:
10 years college level composition teaching
1 year writing tutor (college level)
6 years editorial board of a professional journal
several publications (journal articles, magazine articles, book)
experience with dissertations, college papers, novels, NASA manuals, technical writing, NEH grant proposals

Rates:
Based on experience, my rates are US$0.50 per page for copy editing to US$1.00 per page for content editing (based on MS Word pagination).

Contact info can be provided as necessary (or contact via my profile here).

Samples and references can be provided as desired.