Self-editing your own writing

There are many ways to edit your written work:

  1. Leave it and return to it at a later date with a fresh perspective
  2. Use an online editing program (Grammarly, ProWritingAid, Hemingway Editor etc)
  3. Ask friends, family, colleagues to give feedback
  4. Hire an editor
  5. Submit to contests or publications (sometimes, not often, an editor will respond with encouragement and feedback even if a piece isn’t accepted)
  6. Read out loud to yourself

Did I miss anything?

I used some of these options over the years with mostly positive results. But there is one other method I discovered just this week which I’ve been experimenting with: recording audio.

Recording yourself may seem similar to number 6 in the list above, but in actual fact, it isn’t. I learned a few things about this method of self-editing which I thought I’d share with you.

Recording your voice

When you read your piece out loud, you can hear yourself clearly. You may discover that you stumble on a few words, or pick up on minor grammatical issues. For me, it’s mostly punctuation in the form of extra, or misplaced commas.

I noticed something else: The act of reading and speaking out loud sometimes invites a battle of the wills between my brain and my mouth.

Picture it:

I sat at my desk with the laptop open. The page I was reading from was displayed on the screen.

My phone was placed strategically nearby, with the recording app open. Then I pressed record and read my piece from the screen out loud.

Here is where it gets interesting.

The words coming out of my mouth were not always the same as the words my eyes were seeing on the screen. It’s like my eyes see something, my brain processes it to something else, and my mouth spits out the result. 😳

It’s almost like the brain is predisposed to hear certain expressions a certain way, be it word order, pauses in a longer sentence, or even a synonym of a word you’ve written.

It was quite perplexing.

Using audio for editing

When I played back the audio file, I closed my eyes and concentrated on the words I was hearing. I did not follow along reading the screen while listening to the audio.

I noticed that in some sentences, the word order changed between how I typed it and how I read it out loud.

Example:

I wrote it like so: She decided to wait for him to make a move first.

I said it out loud like so: She decided to wait for him to make a first move.

That’s an example of my brain processing something differently from how I had written it. The brain says ‘this is what it should sound like’ and told my mouth to speak the words that way, not the way I wrote them.

Another example:

I wrote it like so: Gently, she moves the bedding and starts to…

I said it out loud like so: Gently, she moves the bedding and begins to…

For some reason, the brain wants the word begins in that sentence, not starts.

It was extremely enlightening to make this discovery.

Punctuation pauses:

Another thing I noticed when I was listening to the audio was how my brain inserted pauses in places where I had not inserted a comma during the writing process. While I was reading it out loud, the brain stopped my mouth from speaking when it felt a pause was necessary. I went back and listened to it again when I re-read the story and more often than not ended up adding a comma in the place the brain prompted me to.

The same thing occurred during longer sentences which should have been two shorter ones.

For instance:

My story is about 8 minutes of audio. As I’m reading and recording it, I noticed I stumbled over words at the 5 minute mark. This irritated me; do I now have to go back and re-record the whole thing?

I went back to editing. There’s a reason my voice stumbled. Turns out, the flow was interrupted.

My story consisted mostly of short, simple sentences. One sentence (around the 5 minute mark) was much longer and, during reading out loud into the audio app, my brain alerted me to this aberration: The story’s tone was off, and the flow was interrupted.

So, I went back, divided the sentence into two, and fiddled around with the general feel until it felt back in tune with the rest of the piece.

Side note: If you think writing is exhausting, wait until you’re editing. 😭

Anyway, this is what I’ve been spending time on this past week. The two flash fiction stories I’m submitting I subitted to a contest will be sent out today come hell or high water because I can’t focus on anything else until they are out of my hair are gone off into cyberspace and no longer in my hair. 😀

Tell me: how do you self-edit your manuscripts? Do you have any tips to share?

26 thoughts on “Self-editing your own writing

  1. Yes!!! That’s an excellent tip. I taught writing for years. I always had students read aloud to the class. The reason was exactly what you said. When you read aloud you are a much better editor. Your dialogue improves…your sighs, your pauses, your excitement is much more pronounced. I’d often have the children read aloud in pairs and edit as they read orally. It was a way for them to hear their errors.
    Obviously, they couldn’t do that during the state writing test, but they learned to read aloud as a skill to better self edit.
    * NYTimes award winning author, Heather Graham, told me once at a workshop we both attended, that she read all her books aloud before she sent them out for publication. She used it as a main tool in her writing. And especially for dialogue to see if it was believable. I never forgot that tip and used it with my students.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lesley. I appreciate this educational feedback. The reading out loud is not as time-consuming as recording and listening, and I use that with everything I write. So helpful.

      And dialogue is so tricky to get right, I don’t know how anyone can make it sound believable without reading it out loud. Or, have someone else read it out loud.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is how I write, in general, so I agree it’s a good strategy. I don’t record it, but I read my words out loud and I add/delete based on how it sounds and how I want it to sound.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I use the text to speech feature. You can really find the incorrect/missing words that get skipped with spell checking. I think that recording yourself is a great idea, but we can often read what we think we wrote.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These are all wonderful tips. I use audio and reading aloud quite often! Text to speech will read it to you (sounds funny). And having peer reviews is something I use. Thank you for these!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I leave it for a while, then I read it aloud and make changes. Then I hand the whole mess off to my editor. Thankfully, my editor is my husband. He’ll make changes. Then we sit together, and go through it, so that I can approve (and/or debate) any changes he’s made. Then we check for obvious (Word) noted issues. Then we publish. Then we open the published book, and immediately find stuff we missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never thought of using audio to self-edit. Actually, I’m terrible at self-editing anyway. Ironic, given that I regularly edit other people’s work for a living. There’s definitely a disconnect when you’re reading over your own work.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for sharing all this!
    I have a couple of dear friends who take the time to read and edit everything before I send it to my publisher. Then there is also an in-house editor but I prefer to send the ms. as “clean” as possible.
    I have never tried to use audio…maybe next time. It should be interesting to find out what it does with my (very heavy) Cuban accent.

    Liked by 2 people

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