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Why You Can’t Edit Your Own Writing

Last week I published a post I thought was flawless. The writing was brilliant (or so I hoped), the content engaging. Then, of course, my Mom sent me a very tentative email two days later pointing out a few ‘grammar and spelling typos.’ Mom, bless her heart, was worried I would be upset with her. However, I rejoiced in having a second set of eyes. You see, I edit professional writing on a regular basis, and one of the fundamental truths any decent writer or editor knows is that it is nearly impossible to effectively edit your own writing. This week in the Writing Principles for Bloggers series, I will tackle this issue and give you some pointers to survive the editorial process if you can’t hire professional help.

Writing Principles for Bloggers

Writing Principles for Bloggers: You Can’t Edit Your Own Writing

Nobody likes to be told they made mistakes, but effective editing is often the difference between mediocre, amateurish writing, and professional writing. It is critically important for each post you write as a blogger to go through some sort of editorial process. However, I don’t know about you, but as I write this post it is well past my bedtime and I am typing in my pajamas. I suspect that many bloggers create content in relative isolation… Mom bloggers in particular. You are trying to squeeze in one more post after the kids are in bed, during nap, at the crack of dawn. You do not have access to other human beings, much less an editorial staff (as if, right?).

So, what harm is it if you edit your own writing? Well, the unfortunate fact is, if you rely on yourself, you will likely publish posts with a laundry list of mistakes. Sorry to be a bummer, but that is just the way it is. It is nearly impossible to edit your own writing. Don’t believe me? Try this little exercise:

Read the sentences in the triangles shown below. If you want to add some drama, read them out loud. Read each triangle and when you have finished start over again.

writing principles for bloggers

Pretty basic, eh?

Now, stop. Read the sentences again but this time read very slowly. Concentrate on reading every word deliberately.

Did you notice it yet? (if not, the answer is below*)

The Shortcuts Your Brain Takes

You see, our brains are hard-wired to take shortcuts. Some folks call them blind spots. Trust me, when it comes to your own writing, you have some firmly entrenched blind spots. You know what you meant to write, and guess what? Your brain knows what you meant to write too. So, it is predisposed to save you the time and energy of accounting for every detail. Your brain will literally skip over things that don’t make sense, especially if those things are pesky little spelling and grammar errors that don’t significantly change the meaning of your intended message.

Of course, it is precisely those pesky little details that can make or break your authority as a writer.

In a perfect world, your editor would not only catch grammar mistakes, but help to tighten up your sentence structure and cut needless verbiage. However, who has the budget to hire a copy editor? I certainly don’t (and that is why I ‘heart’ my Mom for catching my mistakes).

8 Strategies for When You Have to Edit Your Own Writing

‘Sigh’– this is quite the conundrum, isn’t it? Well, there are a few strategies you can use to bridge the gap between ‘winging it’ and going bankrupt on a copy editor before you are making a red cent on your blog.

  1. Copy and paste your entire post into a word processing program (like Microsoft Word) and change the font to something completely different.
  2. Change the color of the text or put the entire post in bold or italics.
  3. Sleep on it. Try to resist the urge to hit publish as soon as your draft is written. Let a day (or more) pass before you return to the draft and read it over with fresh eyes.
  4. Read your post out loud. This is my favorite strategy because I always find mistakes when I do this. Also, I will often think of a better way to phrase potentially confusing sentences.
  5. When you read out loud really pay attention to how your post sounds. Does it make sense? If you have to stop yourself because what you wrote is not really what you meant.. you should rework that bit of your post.
  6. Read your post out loud in a funny voice.
  7. Read your post while walking around your house.
  8. Try to read your post backwards. So, if I were to edit the last sentence, I would read it like this: backwards post your read to try.

What is the point of all these ‘tricks?’ Well, they break your train of thought. They get your brain out of the dreamy state it is in and actually make it work for you instead of against you. The best way to prevent your brain from taking shortcuts is to play a trick on it by dishing out something it doesn’t expect. Tweaking the pattern of expectation is enough to bring your sleepy ole brain out of the subconscious state and present itself to you as fully engaged in the editorial process.

Are these ‘tricks’ failure proof? Unfortunately, no. Not by a long shot. However, they will certainly help you clean up your writing.

Find an Editorial Buddy!

The best strategy you can use to get past the ‘self-editing’ pit of doom though is to actually have someone else read your post. If you are worried that they will slam your content, then:

  • Find someone you trust and have an open, constructive relationship with.
  • Tell them up front that you are only concerned with grammar errors or writing that might not make sense.

How do you find an editorial buddy? Well, I have a few suggestions. Any (or all) of these would be great. Pick the ones that work best for your situation.

  • Ask your husband, your Mom (if you are lucky like me and your Mom is a retired English teacher!), or a close friend. Of course, this only works if the person(s) close to you actually understand the rules of grammar and the art of writing.
  • Ask a writing-savvy friend or acquaintance who you trust, but who probably doesn’t read your blog.
  • Take advantage of the online blogging community and ask a fellow blogger to be your editorial ‘battle buddy.’ Seriously, why not? Team up with someone in your tribe and help each other out!

In the end, you can do this. You can create online content that is both compelling and professional. Just be wary of relying on your own expertise too much. After all, you may be your own least effective critic.

Thanks for reading and stop back next Tuesday when we will discuss ‘BLUF.’

Sara

*Each triangle repeats one word. Triangle #1: ‘the’, #2: ‘a’, #3: ‘the’

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Joy Healy

Tuesday 7th of April 2015

Your sprinkling of humor throughout your blog is delightful!

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