We all have quirks in the way we write. For some of us (*cough* me), those quirks include long sentences, overuse of commas, and overuse of me dashes. One of my best friends always used to mistype “minute” as “minuet,” not because she didn’t know how to spell the word or an otherwise excellent typist, but because her fingers tended to jumble up the E and the T. Other people tend to mistype certain phrases – “all of a sudden” becomes “all the sudden,” for example.
Quirks like these are perfectly normal, and sometimes they can even be endearing. Unfortunately, a lot of people’s written quirks are pretty grating and can affect their audience’s experience negatively. Luckily, with some extra attention to detail, most of your more annoying quirks/repeated misspellings/regularly broken grammar rules will disappear.
The first step to fixing these issues is really analyzing both your own writing and other people’s writing. If you’re a novelist, read some high-quality novels and really take time to look at how they word things. If you’re a blogger, read some blogs written by professionals that have a really strong grasp of English and see how they put things together. Once you’ve done that, go back and look at your own writing. Older pieces will be better for this, as you’ve had some time away from them and they’ll feel a bit more like they were written by someone else. This will help you see your writing with new eyes.
Once you’re looking at your own writing, get really nitpicky about it. Are you using that word correctly? Are your paragraphs and sentences too long? Too short? Are they all one length with little variation? Are you using extra words you don’t need? (“Just” and “suddenly” are often used unnecessarily.) Too much repetition? What grammar and spelling mistakes are you catching yourself making over and over again? Really take the time to analyze your own work and the things about it that might make it difficult or unappealing to read.
After you’re done studying your own writing, take the time to learn how to fix it. I discussed a few different strategies for this in Part 1. Tools like Grammarly can be very helpful, as can a simple spellcheck tool (though, because they use artificial intelligence, sometimes they are incorrect or miss some of the nuances of language). Google is your biggest ally in your quest for better grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If you’re having trouble spelling a word, chances are someone else has, too, which means Google will be able to pop out a more accurate result for you. Not a 100% sure what a word means? Look it up and make sure it’s the term you want to use. Dictionary.com’s sister site, Thesaurus.com can be very helpful in giving you synonyms and antonyms to a variety of words. Use the tools available to you and save the resources you like into a bookmarks folder in your browser so you know you’ll be able to find them again when you need them.
Once you’ve armed yourself with editing tools, open up your old work. Then, open up a new, blank document (in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or whatever word processor you use). Put your old document and the new, blank document side by side. Then start retyping the old document into the new document. I swear this isn’t busy work. It’s an excellent editing tool that allows you to see your writing in a new way and gives you a chance to completely rewrite the original. Rather than editing minor errors in the original, you can start from scratch and rethink the entire thing. If there’s structural issues, you’ll be able to solve them, because you won’t be worried about having to rearrange things. Since you’re rewriting your piece from scratch with the first draft as a blueprint, you’ll find it easier to move things around, delete words or sentences that just aren’t working, and think more creatively as you try to solve the issues with the original piece. The version you get the second time around will often be much cleaner, read smoother, and overall be a better piece of writing.
It’s a lot of work to edit things for yourself, but it’s also the kind of work you’d pay a decent chunk of change to someone like me for. Being able to edit some of your work yourself so that you can have a clean second draft for people to look at (this goes especially for novelists and short story writers planning to submit their work to publishers or literary magazines) can make a world of difference.
Have questions about the editing process? Have an exciting editing tool or process you’d like to share? Leave a comment and I’ll discuss it in my next How to Edit Like a Pro post!