Thursday, April 13, 2017

Can Self-editing Improve Your Writing?

by Cynthia Howerter

Can self-editing improve your writing? That depends: is your goal to simply write or is it to write to the very best of your ability? While the former can lend itself to mediocrity, the latter challenges us to improve our skill, learn what we do not know, and utilize our knowledge throughout everything we write. Self-editing, when done thoroughly, forces us to scrutinize our writing and find ways to improve it.  

When I complete a piece of writing, I print it, grab a pen, and find a comfortable chair—because I’m going to be sitting a while. Next, I’ve disciplined myself to read the entire article out loud. This is slow-going, but it allows me to hear and see every word, making it easier to find errors and implement necessary changes.

I listen to the way sentences sound; do they flow smoothly or is the wording awkward? Mistakes with subject-verb agreement are easier to recognize when I hear them. Listening allows me to determine if I used a mix of simple and complex sentences. The moderate reading pace helps me watch for clarity of meaning and continuity of subject in each sentence and paragraph.

Like many people, I tend to think faster than I type which means the words I’m thinking are sometimes not written. When I read a document silently, which is much faster-paced, my brain tricks itself into seeing words that aren’t there but should be. It’s when I read aloud that these errors are noticeable and readily caught. This slower-paced reading also permits me to find incorrect punctuation and word usage.

Finished, I return to the computer, insert my corrections, and read the entire document aloud however many times it takes until I’m satisfied. I work as hard on editing as I do on writing. A thorough self-edit is demanding, time-consuming work, but the result of disciplining myself to do it is that I’ve become a much better writer. And that’s what it’s all about.

How do you edit your work? What helpful self-edit tips can you share? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!


Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter is passionate about American history. She loves writing historical fiction and regularly contributes articles to the Colonial Quills website. She’s a member of Word Weavers International and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Her non-fiction anthology God’s Provision in Tough Times, co-authored with La-Tan Roland Murphy, was a 2014 Selah Award finalist and can be purchased on Amazon. Visit her on Facebook, Colonial Quills, Pinterest, and Twitter.    


  1. i sure hope so! I do what was called "cycling" in another article (can't remember where) - i hve to go back and read what I last wrote to pick up where I left off and as I do i'm always in edit mode! (I don't think I can ever read without edit mode ever again! LOL)
    thanks for a great post, Cynthia!

  2. Thanks so much for commenting, Robin! I'm like you; I constantly edit even when I'm not making a conscious effort to do so. Great minds think alike.

  3. I love the idea of slow reading aloud while self-editing. Thank you, Cynthia!

  4. I hope you find it as helpful as I do, Ingmar. It really is a wonderful tool.

  5. If you're blessed, as I am, you have someone close to you who will give your work an honest critique. In my case, it's my wife. She is one of my toughest critics, and I'm forever grateful. Editing, even self-editing, is not for the weak. We can't produce our best work if we only want people to like whatever we write. The critics I love most, and I have many, are those who tear up my drafts, out of love for me.

    Thanks for a great article, Cynthia.

  6. Yes, I am a compulsive editor. I work through one chapter at a time, and can't move forward until it's as perfect as it can be. Of course, later I will go back and add fillers, insights, but overall, I prefer to edit as I go. It helps me keep the story in focus.