Self Editing can be a troublesome issue for many writers. After a dozen or so re-reads, the best of us can find ourselves blind to small errors in our text. Below find some of my favorite tips for self editing as well as a few tips from travel writing and blogging veterans!
1. My #1 tip is to read your writing out loud. It’s amazing how different you will hear the piece compared to reading it silently. Look for spots where you stumble over the words and obvious issues with grammar, spelling and structure.
2. Read your article to another person. Find someone who has a few minutes and read the article out loud. It’s a very interesting process and you’ll be amazed that you will begin to hear the article from the listeners point of view! Make edits as you read.
3. Keep an eye out for passive voice. Overuse of passive voice is one of those things that can jump off the page to an editor as inexperience. Like adverbs and initial pronouns, sometimes you can use passive voice for a specific purpose and it will be perfect, but overuse will almost always weaken your writing.
Here’s an example:
Active voice: Chuck kicked in the door. He jumped behind a chair, shouted a quote from Shakespeare and then hid under the couch.
Passive voice: The door was kicked in by Chuck. The chair was jumped on, a quote was shouted and then he couch was hid under by him.
In the first example, Chuck the subject and in the second example the door, chair, and couch are the subjects. The second example is not grammatically incorrect, but it doesn’t sound right. Your verbs should refer to the doer rather than to the thing having something done to it.
4. Omit needless words—a rule that follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer
My guest on Episode 52 was Don George. He offered a ton of great tips on the episode, which you can find here: bitw.com/bitw-052-how-to-become-a-great-travel-writer-with-don-george
I also found an interview with Leslie Trew Magraw and Don George, where he offered some additional great tips. Below are several tips from Don about self editing such as:
5. Always give yourself time to put a piece of writing away. Get away from it for at least a day or three so that you come back to it with somewhat fresh eyes. It just reads differently when you are out of the moment of writing it.
6. If you’re a beginning writer, join a writers group. You will find people with different perspectives who can read your work and comment on it. If you can’t find one, start one. Somebody might say, “I just don’t get this lede; it takes so long for the story to get to the place where it takes off. Why don’t you start at seven paragraphs in?” That kind of feedback can be really helpful.
7. Every sentence, every word, is a building block: If it doesn’t advance the story, get rid of it. He would give our class a short–maybe 250 words–front-of-book piece from The New Yorker that had been edited by, at that time, probably ten editors, and say, “cut ten words.” As a student you were like, “Okay, I’m going to do this,” and would read every single word, word by word. And you would pause after each word and ask yourself, “does that need to be there?” You could drive yourself crazy doing that with a 7,000-word story, but it’s a really great principle to keep in mind.
8. As a writer know what you are trying to convey. Many writers don’t really know what the point of their piece is. There are so many stories that I have read through the years that are just like “I got up in the morning. I had a really great lunch, then walked down to the beach and spent the afternoon there. There was an awesome sunset, then I went back and had a really great dinner. “As a reader you think, “Why are you telling me this? What do you want me to take away?”
9. Have a very clear sense, as a writer, of what your point is. You should be able to write one pithy sentence where you say, “What I want the reader to take away from my story is ________.” If you can fill that in, you need to do some more work. Keeping that question front of mind gives you a road map, a tool to help ensure that you’re on track as you write.
When I teach classes and workshops, I often ask my students to write “Why are you telling me this?” at the top of their page because that’s exactly what the editor is going to be thinking as he or she reads your piece. No one wants to hear a recitation of what you did that day. Especially as an editor I really, really don’t care about that. Teach me something. Move me in some way. Emotionally engage me.
10. Misspelling and Basic Rules of Grammar. People who write “its” when they mean “it’s” or vice versa. If you call yourself a writer, and you don’t even know these incredibly basic rules of grammar or rules of syntax, it will cause editors and readers to question the whole credibility of a person on a much larger level.
11. It’s not about you! It’s about the location! Don’t include information that doesn’t reveal anything about a place. Just talking about yourself and whatever is going on in your life, without any reference to the experience you are having is not professional. That really drives me crazy because I don’t really care about you. I’m not reading this story to find out about you. I’m reading this story to find out about Greece.
Don suggests every writer or blogger should read Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style because it is a precious communication tool. You have to respect language and use it well if you are going to be a great communicator. Really, what we are all trying to do, I think, is share our experiences as openly, smoothly, eloquently, and richly as possible. The better we understand the instrument we are using to do that, the more beautiful the music we can make with it.
If you want to know more about travel writing, I strongly suggest you head to Amazon and pick up any of Don George‘s anthologies such as his newest book, The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George or any great travel literature to study and inspire your writing!