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The Best Way to Edit Your Writing

I have always been terrible at editing. Once I am finished with something, I feel like I’ve put in a sufficient amount of effort and shouldn’t be asked to ever look at it again. This is not how writing works, unfortunately. When I was a teacher, I would feel like an incredible hypocrite standing at the front of my class talking to my students about the importance of feedback and revisions when I secretly never revised anything I wrote throughout high school or most of college.

Recently, I’ve been browsing Pinterest a lot (you know, like it’s 2012) and I’ve discovered a wealth of writing tips there. A lot of them are Tumbler posts by well meaning but confused teenagers, yes. But, several of them have been very helpful to me as I’ve tried to improve my writing. The best one yet is a different way to edit. Most of us read through what we’ve written and attempt to make changes along the way. That leaves most of us doing this:

Another method I learned in college that is somewhat helpful is to read it back to yourself, but out loud. I would always force my students to do this and they hated it. Middle schoolers don’t enjoy whispering to themselves in front of a computer while surrounded by their peers. Weird. But seriously, reading aloud to yourself helps to catch grammar and spelling errors because you can’t just skim over them if you’re trying to speak them.

But, the best way to edit is to open a completely new blank document and start over. That sounds crazy, I know. I was skeptical at first, but this second book was giving me enough trouble that I felt like I needed to do something drastic. I minimized the windows so that I could have the old version and the blank screen next to each other. I would retype what I’d already written into the new window, making changes along the way.

Y’all.

It has worked miracles. I had around 1300 words originally and I was 2/3 of the way through the plot, which was problematic. I’m a little over halfway finished revising and I already have over 1400 words in the new document. My characters have been fleshed out, several plot holes have been closed, and I just feel generally better about what I’ve written.

Something about a blank page is freeing. It’s not as hard to completely gut a chapter if I don’t have to physically highlight and delete things I wrote. I simply don’t write them in the new version. I don’t have to tiptoe around myself while adding details or entire scenes to the narrative because it’s all fresh.

Next time you’re stuck, try this editing method. Let me know how it goes!

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