You can easily summarize the first step to editing in a sentence. However, putting it into practice is a different story. The first step is to take your creative hat off and put on your critical reading cap. All those brilliant sentences and illuminating paragraphs that flowed freely from your imagination and onto the page are now about to be turned upside down and inside out. They will be examined and put to the ultimate test. The fundamental editing question is this: are they earning their keep?

The best way to make this switch from writing to revising is to take a break from your text. Give it a few days at the least, but preferably a week or longer. The best thing to do for your work is to try not to think about it. Work on something else, spend time with friends, take a holiday. Or just treat yourself for a few days. You deserve it; after all, you’ve just finished writing a book!

When you come back to your writing, imagine you are seeing it for the first time. Scan each line and read it out aloud if possible, listening intently for awkward turns of phrase or vague meaning. Pretend you are reading each sentence for the first time. Would you know what the author intended? Could it be interpreted in a different way? If yes, it might be a chance to shorten, elaborate on, or clarify those words. As you read through, rather than immediately rewriting the problem sentences or paragraphs as you find them, just highlight them for now. That way, you can continue reading your work at the same pace as a reader would and then come back to fix all the problem areas afterward. You may need to put your creative hat back on again. Don’t forget to run a computer spell-check to pick up the more glaring errors or typos both before and after you have made any new revisions.

The First Step to Editing

When you are finished reworking the text and are satisfied with it, the next step is to send your manuscript out to somewhere like for professional editing. You might be surprised at what your editor will find, especially after you have so carefully revised it. This is because when you are busy writing and creating, you tend not to notice your bad writing habits. Or perhaps you don’t realize the meaning of something is ambiguous rather than clear. After all, you knew what you meant to say. So ambiguous sentences won’t leap off the page the way they do for a professional editor whose job it is to hunt these things down.

When the editors at have finished annotating your manuscript, you are ready for the final step: the last draft! Now, your writing has been tweaked and polished. You can make a final read-through, considering the suggestions and comments of your editor as you go. Finally, now that everything is as perfect as can be, it is time to send it out for the wider world to read!

Originally posted 1/5/2011 and happily updated 11/15/2017. Thanks for reading!

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