Five Paths to Perspective: Self-Editing Tricks & Tips

Focus is a great and necessary thing. But when you've been mired in a project for month upon month with your nose pressed to the page and your brain fully immersed, you become a little myopic to its flaws. Blind to the suckitude, is another way I'd put it.

When I'm "too close," I fail to see not only line editing type troubles, from missing words to misspellings and poor diction, but I can also miss more serious problems involving lapses in character motivations, hokey dialogue, "lazy" genre shortcuts (I write genre, so I'm not knocking it, but the whip must be cracked when the usual cliches rear their ugly heads), and predictability. To counter these problems and become my own editor, I look for ways to distance myself from and regain perspective on my pages.

Here are just a few that have worked for me in the past.

1. Take a break from the project to work on something else and then come back to it. Time works wonders to dispel the glamor. A writer on deadline may not have the luxury, however, so back-up strategies are needed.

2. Read the work in a different format. If you've been working off the screen, print the thing and physical write notes in the margin. Or put it on your electronic reader if you have one and pretend it's someone else's book you're reading and reviewing or critiquing.

3. Listen to your pages read aloud. When I write short pieces, such as articles, I often read them aloud myself, but for longer projects, I tend to, chapter by chapter, ask my computer to read it aloud to me. There are a couple of great programs for this purpose, TextAloud (free trial and then $29.95) and Microsoft Reader (free) available for download online. I use the latter, with a fairly expressionless, canned voice that is totally unforgiving that frequently makes me wince as it highlights and reads word after word. For some reason, though, it helps me focus on the sound of each sentence, and I consider it an essential editing tools.

4. Cast yourself as your agent/editor/critique partner and try reading from their perspective. In an especially persnickety mood. I swear, as I read, I sometimes hear Joni's voice in my head saying "You can do better" or "This way to the exposition." It's as if anyone whose ever critiqued you has taken up residence in your brain. (Though I recommend you reserve "the troops" for the editing process and keep them far from the writing process, where you don't want anything stifling your creativity.)

5. Change the venue. I edit galleys and such but never write at one big table in my house. So when I print out pages and take them there to read, it puts my brain in "seek and destroy" mode. Also, going to work at the library or a coffee joint -- anywhere different from where you normally work -- cues your brain that you're doing different work that day.

Though none of these tips and tricks for regaining perspective takes the place of feedback from others, they can help you to produce a much cleaner, more focused manuscript in the first place. Have any of your own techniques to share?


Brandie Nickerson said…
That was extremely helpful especially since I'm almost at the editing stage.

Great, Brandie! Thanks, and best of luck with your editing.

It was nice seeing you on Saturday.
Anonymous said…
Microsoft Reader has helped me so much for editing!!! Great Path, Colleen.

Linda Warren said…
Hey Colleen,
These are all great and I really needed to read them today. I'm going to look into Microsoft Reader. Thank you for sharing.
Christie Craig said…
Great tips, Colleen.

It is always so hard for me to self-edit. So I can always use the tips.

Lynn Lorenz said…
Great Tips, Colleen!
Self-editing is the toughest job a writer has, for sure.
I'll have to look into the Reader thingy, but with what I write, I'd have to use it when the kids were asleep!!
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the great tips, Colleen.
Teri Thackston said…
These are all great tips. I especially like the one about changing locations. A change of view, different lighting, different sounds and smells often create a new perspective on the work in progress.
Thanks for the kind words!

And Lynn, I'd suggest using earphones to listen. I often do that rather than disturbing my family with Readings By Miss Monotone. :)
These are great ideas. I'm asked about this all the time by the academic writers who are my clients. Thanks!

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