Mind your Language with Emefa Agordoh-Mekpor : Your first draft is not good enough(1)

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Photo: A writer at work Credit: Rawpixel

Tips for self-editing your work

Many writers hate to edit their own work. And that’s only natural – you have such a sense of completion when you finish writing that you cannot imagine that you still got work to do. And to think that that work is equally demanding – or perhaps more demanding – writers want nothing to do with editing. I am a stickler for having different set of eyes review what you have written, but I also firmly believe in proofreading your own work. Whether it’s an email, a business proposal or a novel, you should aim to edit your writing before you ship it off to someone else (a professional editor, I hope) to review further.

Why self-editing is good for you

When you learn to self-edit effectively, you will reduce the cost and time demand that will be placed on the person editing it for you. If you are not paying for the service, it will still take more time just because you didn’t review it yourself.

Do you know why we teach students to proofread their answers before submitting an exam script? It is because we seek to imbibe this valuable skill in them. There will be situations where no one can read what you have written, either because it is extremely confidential or because it is not permitted. When you are sending a very sensitive email, you would definitely need to proofread it yourself and make all the necessary corrections.

The last reason for you to master self- editing is for the sake of your reputation. Believe you me, sometimes as editors we make comments like this to ourselves (and I repeat, only to ourselves), “She didn’t even bother to go over what she had written. Just look at this petty mistake”. You definitely don’t want anybody to say that about your work and have a poor estimation of you, so learn to review when you write.

Now let’s look at some tips to make self-editing easy for you:

  1. Take a break before you edit: When you start writing, your mind is in a creative mode. Editing is re-creating and needs its own state of mind. This is why we advise you to leave the written work for some time and return to edit it. This could be minutes, hours, days or even weeks later. You may not have the luxury of time but it surely does pay to take the time off and return to your written work later. When you do this, you are more likely to spot errors and you approach your work more objectively.
  2. Read out loud: When you begin to edit your work, you might want to read it out loud – s l o w l y. I have realized that this works like magic! Our eyes tend to deceive us because we know what we expect to see and we end up missing errors. But when we read aloud, we force the brain to pay attention to what is on the paper, or screen.
  3. Get rid of clichés and repetitions: You know those phrases you have heard so many times that you wish you would never hear in your life again? Like when a guy tells a lady, “You are the only mosquito in my net” Did I hear you say “ah”? Exactly. There are many overused phrases like that in the English language that slip into writing ever so often. When editing, try to look out for some of these clichés and any ideas that have been repeated in the writing. People struggle to identify repetition because they think it means seeing the same thing twice. Repetition is when you express the same idea using different words in your writing. Choose the most interesting rendition and remove the other sentences. Also keep an eye on those words that you tend to use a lot.
  4. Write English: Yes, you heard right. Use plain simple English; not those words they only use for spelling bees and vocabulary tests that we never use when we are speaking. As much as possible, check your work for those words that will generally be difficult for the average person to understand. Avoid veneration, plethora, disambiguation, unless they are absolutely needed to express your idea. Only use “complex” words when you are sure your audience is totally comfortable with it, and not just because you want to impress your readers. You may end up putting them off. When editing, try to replace “big” words with simpler ones and make it less wordy. Even with business emails, we see a lot of these nice-sounding phrases that are meant to make it sound really “formal”. I don’t know about you but it sure does put me off. Consider replacing, “In view of our recent correspondence, it has come to our notice…” with “We noticed after our last discussion that…” Keep it simple and sweet.
  5. Use spellcheckers – but don’t rely on them: Whenever you are typing and you notice a red or blue line under a word or sentence, don’t ignore it. Part of the editing process also involves checking out those errors that your spellchecker picked up. Although there are not failsafe, they can help you to pick up a lot of your basic errors (Tip: Avoid writing sentences in all caps so that your spellchecker can proofread them for you). But beyond the basic ones provided by your writing software, there are more sophisticated ones available online. I have tried PerfectIt and Grammarly and I can attest that they are very reliable. I like them also because as conventions in the language change, they also update their proofing tools. Use them but remember to proofread again after.

When all is said and done, you can now ask a fresh set of eyes to review your work for you. Here’s additional final advice for you: drop the emotions when editing. Don’t be afraid to remove, cut out, make major changes or rewrite entire books, if it will make the work better. Like one person said: “Your first draft is most often trash.”

We hope this was useful. Catch us next time for another exciting lesson.

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