Is Self-Editing a Waste of Time?

You’re not perfect. Nobody is.

What’s more tiring, frustrating, and confidence-crushing than writing? Self-editing, of course.

Some of us barely tolerate it. Others can’t get away from their cringeworthy first drafts fast enough.

There are many reasons why we don’t like looking over our own work. Early writers especially struggle to reread their writing without wanting to toss their laptops out the window. Often, it’s a time issue. You sit down, you write a blog post — you only have so much time to do all that, and self-editing, if you’re unhappy with the way something’s turned out, could end in a complete rewrite.

So the question is: is self-editing a waste of time? Is it worth the frustration, embarrassment, and pain?

After all, at some point, an editor’s going to pick up what you’ve written and do the hard part for you. Right?

If you’ve ever worked professionally with an editor, you know this isn’t the case. I’ve yet to work with an editor that hasn’t dished out the request that we “proofread our work before submitting it.” Editors are there to fix easy-to-miss mistakes, and in some cases, to help you improve the structure and flow of a piece. They aren’t there to fix errors that SpellCheck could have picked up — and they’re definitely not going to spend the time cleaning up a first draft that you haven’t even bothered to read over at least once.

Is there such thing as wasting valuable time while editing your work? Of course. I’ve caught myself a handful of times fixing and rewriting things that didn’t need altering in the first place. Granted, I’m also a chronic perfectionist, and if I let myself, I’d rewrite every single thing I ever wrote in an unnecessary attempt to make it “better.” If you’re the same way, you have to approach this process with care.

Editing your own work is difficult, and spending too much time pouring over a draft can have its downsides. But this doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, look over your work before you submit it. It doesn’t mean you can’t revise and rewrite on your own after you’ve taken a brief step back from your first draft. It just means that working alone almost never works. Why do you think there’s the occasional typo in these posts? It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because my own eyes can only catch so many of my own mistakes, no matter how many times I reread a post (which, honestly, rarely exceeds 1.5).

Self-editing will not catch everything. It’s often a struggle to look at your project as a whole body of work, because you’re scrutinizing your own words so carefully. But it will often catch the most obvious errors, like leaving out a word, writing the same word twice, or forgetting a hyperlink. Multiple editors have told me to read my work out loud, and that helps tremendously. Hearing your words, instead of skimming over them, sometimes helps you rephrase things, connect thoughts together, and improve the structure of whatever you’re writing.

So, back to our original question: is self-editing a waste of time? It can be, if you start obsessing over creating the perfect draft. There is no such thing. This is why editors exist, even if you don’t have one yet. It’s literally their job to fix your mistakes and help you polish an imperfect piece. Self-edit at least once, maybe twice if you make changes. But don’t go crazy before passing your work off to someone who (hopefully) gets paid to really look at it in detail.

Don’t have an editor? Most aspiring writers don’t. I have several for my Cheat Sheet articles, but when I write this blog, I’m on my own. All I can do is my best. If I had an extra hour to edit my posts more carefully, I would. But the truth is, I don’t. You learn to turn the things you hate into habits, and you learn to move through these habits as effectively and efficiently as possible. Do I like reading over my work? No. But I do it, because it’s very important to me that you’re getting the highest quality reads possible every single day.

Learn to tolerate it. Someday, you might have an editor there to comb through your draft. But for right now, do the best you can. Even though people on the internet love to point out the smallest flaws in our work for some reason, no one’s judging you THAT severely on whether or not you’re perfect. If they are, well, they’re just not nice. Is an error-free blog post more professional? Of course it is. But come on. We’re only human here.

If you’re struggling with self-editing, this post might help. It has a novel-writing angle, but the tips can really apply to any kind of work, whether it’s fiction or not.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.

Join now.

Solution Saturday: Editing My Book Is Too Overwhelming


Deciding to write a book is the first of many treacherous steps aspiring novelists take on their journey toward conquering the novel-writing monster. It’s tough. There are always emotional roller coasters along the way. But finishing a book, for real, is worth the exhilaration that comes along with it.

Until you remember you still have to edit it. The whole thing. By yourself.

Editing a first draft is one of few activities writers have to physically sit down and do alone. While other writers can provide support, and some might even offer to read that horrifying first attempt for you, no one can revise it in your place. And with a whole book in front of you to make better, well, you’re probably not feeling as confident as you did when you finished writing it, are you?

It’s going to be okay. We’re here to help. 

Solution 1: Take a break between writing and revising

Writing a book is no small feat: as a writer, you know that better than anyone! When you finally finish your masterpiece, give yourself time to step back and congratulate yourself on your major accomplishment.

You don’t have to start editing the second you finish writing. In fact, you shouldn’t. It’s always better to walk away from a finished draft and come back later with a fresh perspective. If you’re afraid you’ll turn around and never look back, set a date in the near future when you want to go back and start the editing process. 

Solution 2: Edit in smaller pieces 

Let’s say you have a completed, 60,000-word novel staring you in the face when you do sit down to edit. That’s a lot of words to reread and revise, and if you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to get through it all—if you even can—we understand why you’re overwhelmed!

You can’t look at 60,000 words and dive right in: it’s just too much. Instead, break that up into smaller editing projects. Take it one chapter, five pages, 1,000 words at a time instead. You can even block out just one or two hours a day specifically for editing, if that’s what works best for you. Find a way to make editing a daily task without shoving it aside because you can’t do it all at once.

Solution 3: Set a reasonable “done date”

It’s very easy to say you’re “working on revising your book,” but sit down, reread a few pages and move onto something else. To keep yourself on track, it might be a good idea to give yourself a “done date”—the day by which you want to be able to stand up and shout as loud as you can, “I’M DONE!!!!”

Dreams have no time limit: goals do. Turn your dream of writing, editing and maybe even publishing a book into a goal by giving yourself one big deadline and smaller ones along the way, such as, “I want to be halfway done editing by Thanksgiving.” Or something like that.

You wrote a book. You poured your heart and soul and tears and probably a lot of coffee into making it happen. Now comes the hard part—but you’re not alone. We all write and revise. We all somehow figure out how to do it without [completely] losing our minds. You can, too—and if you need support, just leave a comment. We, and your fellow NR readers, are here for you!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

How Editing Enhances Our Writing: An Interview with Marisa Russell


As writers, we spend a lot of time stuck in our own projects. That’s why many of us will scramble at the chance to look at any piece of writing other than our own, whether it be a book for pleasure or helping someone out by critiquing their work.

Here at Novelty Revisions, we believe writing and revising go hand-in-hand. Part of the art of stringing words together is knowing how to reshape and improve what’s already been written, no matter how long it takes. As today’s NR guest will show you (though words, of course), learning how to edit is an essential part of learning how to best put your ideas into words.

Marisa Russell is a journalism student at Hofstra University. A life-long writer, she has seen firsthand how taking a leap and becoming an editor can change the way we write, and transform the way we view the writing process from beginning to end. 

Tell us about your writing experience.

I’ve been writing since I was able to pick up a pencil and form letters. I was always into writing stories, and when an opportunity to attend a journalism camp in NYC came along in high school, that’s when my writing took off. I was interviewing people on the streets of New York, and from that moment on I never stopped.

I interned at ABC 2 News in high school, where I got a ton of writing and interviewing experience for the web and T.V., but my broadcast writing career ended there. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve written for Her Campus Hofstra, The Chronicle [Hofstra’s newspaper], College Lifestyles™ [online magazine], and most recently, LinkedIn. My experiences have occurred over a variety of mediums, but the biggest thing is that I have years of experience under my belt.

Describe your editing experience.

My editing experience started a bit later than my writing. I started editing college application and scholarship essays for my boyfriend’s mom’s business in the fall of my freshman year. It was amazing to be able to help others achieve their goals by teaching writing skills.

From there, I became an editor at College Lifestyles™ in the summer of 2014, and I’ve been an editor ever since. The moment I started editing, I couldn’t stop. I spent the last year as [assistant] copy chief at my school newspaper and oddly enough, it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. I’m very type A and a nitpicky person, so editing is perfect for my stress level, weirdly enough.

What about your writing experience prepared you your editing roles?

I knew many different styles of writing, and I knew all of the AP style rules before I was even required to enforce them. Watching my growth as a writer also helped me teach others how to grow as well. It’s like being an employee before you get to be the boss… you always appreciate those on your team when you’ve been in their shoes before. I don’t think you should be allowed to be an editor without a tremendous amount of writing experience.

What has editing taught you about your own writing?

I’ve become a lot more careful with my writing because I’m an editor. It’s also taught me that I can write a grammatically correct sentence, but someone else may not like it simply because of their style. Everyone writes differently, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. Being an editor causes you to analyze things for structure, readability and credibility, versus just “if it sounds/looks good.” So, I’d say I’ve become a lot more critical of how I’m saying something, rather than what I’m saying.

What has editing taught you about critiquing others’ work?

Every person you critique is totally different. It’s not just slight differences, but you sometimes have to change your entire mindset to properly edit someone else’s work. It’s also taught me that everyone takes criticism differently, and you have to adapt to that when you are trying to help someone improve their work. I can tell one writer to fix a sentence because it’s unclear and they understand what I’m saying, where if I told another that, they would find it insulting and not know what to do. I’ve learned that critique is all about balance, and learning the writer.

In what ways do you think all writers, despite their disciplines, can benefit from gaining editing experience?

No matter what field you work for, you will always be writing and editing. Even if it’s just an email or a company document, you will write every day for the rest of your life. Learning how to edit others’ work, and having that experience (in any capacity) will teach you how to work with others, how to critique your own work through a different lens and how to be successful. Even if it’s just editing your coworker’s research article or your child’s homework, editing is a tough skill to learn, and one that makes you a better person in the end to have.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned as an editor?

Hmm, that’s a tough one honestly. I’ve learned that a nice cup of coffee and a comfortable bed make for the perfect way to edit articles, just kidding! I’ve really learned that patience, kindness and hard work go a long way. Despite if I’m feeling down or think I’m doing a bad job, those that I’ve helped or edited for always believe in and support me, and it’s because of those three things.

What’s the hardest thing about editing someone else’s work?

For me personally, it’s not changing people’s work for them. I’m like I said before, very type A and I like to have control over the situation, so in the beginning I thought changing things for someone would be the best way to go. But, over time, I learned that giving someone an example and guiding them in the right direction will save me [a lot] of time in the future. Helping someone learn versus doing it for them will help them remember the right way to do things in the future.

What’s the most rewarding?

Seeing the end product. Whether that’s an article, a college essay, an acceptance to a college or an award, seeing what my writers have gone on to achieve is absolutely amazing.

If you’re just starting out as a writer, and you’re looking for writing experience, try proofreading, copyediting or volunteering, interning or even working in an editorial setting. Having an outside perspective on the writing process can help you learn to more effectively identify weaknesses and flaws in your own writing.

The earlier you start, the more opportunities you’ll have to gain hands-on experience before entering the real world. No matter your stage of life, writing will always be a part of you. Use your skills to help not only yourself, but also someone else, discover a new kind of love for words.

Image courtesy of Marisa Russell.

How Editing Helps Refine the Skill of Writing


There is a reason the best creative writing instructors form peer review groups. A student joins a class to “learn how to write better,” usually not realizing that in order to “be better,” you have to put your own notebook down and look over someone else’s.

The key to successful writing is remembering there is always room to improve; you can always become a better writer than you think you are right now. Refining that skill is a life-long process, and stepping out of your role as a writer and playing the part of an editor is one way to keep your mind ahead of your hands.

Here are three ways editing makes us better writers.

Awareness of Common Errors (and How to Fix Them)

When we limit ourselves to staring at page after page of our own writing, we start to gloss over the common style and even grammar mistakes we make. The one and only downside of reading professionally published writing is that you’re seeing the finished product, after it has been picked apart and reconstructed maybe six or seven times. All you see is the (hopefully) error-free work, and it’s easy to forget no piece of writing starts out that way.

Almost more effective than having someone else point out these shortcomings, seeing someone else make similar mistakes broadens our editorial lens and helps us to recognize common mistakes when we return to our own projects.

Shifting the Focus Off Our Own Work

Writing an original piece, whether it’s an article, short story, poem or full-length novel, is enough of a roller coaster. Going back and staring at the same paragraphs over and over again is like an elevated straightaway, then a downward plunge, then a slow climb—and repeat.

Editing our own work gets very old; exciting; then it drags us hopelessly along, either leaving us thinking we’re good enough to get published or we should just trash the thing now and start over. Taking time to close out our own documents and give our exhausted brains and eyes something new to look at is not only refreshing and motivating, but also beneficial for both the editor and writer.

Experiencing the Other Side of Criticism

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing, how many pieces you have or haven’t published, how many times you have or haven’t been rejected: taking criticism is hard. Every writer wants to believe the time and effort they’re putting into their work is making a difference, and when someone hands back a draft with corrections and suggestions clogging the margins, it’s discouraging. Often motivating, but still disappointing.

Probably the best way to learn how to handle criticism from someone else is to practice dishing it out yourself. Taking the time to read someone else’s work and practice giving feedback the way you would want someone to give it to you serves as a much-needed reminder that constructive criticism is literally in an editor’s job description, and you might be a great writer, but you’ll never be perfect.

Writing is hard; editing is harder. You won’t make it very far in your career if you try to maintain one without the other. Balance your writing with editing others’ work, and sometimes without even realizing it, your skills in both areas will improve quickly. It’s worth your time; you might even find you like it.

Image courtesy of Novel Revisions.

How Editing Is Like Making a Pizza


A well-deserved, crunchy and delicious pizza.

Learning the proper way to edit is almost as challenging as writing a first draft, especially when you don’t have much experience editing others’ work before trying to proof your own. Any analogy can help a new editor make sense of the steps and layers that go into proofreading and/or editing their own work. Especially analogies involving food.

Unsure of the steps you should take when looking over something you’ve written? Think dinner. Think pizza. 

Start with the Crust

A pizza’s crust, rounded-out dough as flat and thin as you can make it, is the foundation of every “successful” pizza. In the same way, the foundation of every successful piece of writing, its content, is where the editing process begins.

At this point, grammar, spelling, punctuation—do your best to look over it during your first read-through. Focus instead on the words, and whether they convey the message you are trying to get across. Are they accurate? Credible? If an outsider comes in and strips away the other layers (we’ll discuss those in a second), will they find a strong foundation, or just some fluffy dough with no substance?

Once your foundation is set, you’re ready for the next step.

Layer On Sauce

After the crust is set and ready to go, the sauce comes next. Think of sauce as a necessary filling, painting the crust and serving as a healthy barrier between that and its toppings.

This “filling,” in the editing sense, takes one step above the piece’s base content and looks at the way it is presented. This can include things as small as sentence structure and as large as paragraph breaks, order and placement. You’ll also pay closer attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation here. One of the most important ingredients in this step, however, is the use of transitions. Not necessarily outright “firsts,” “nexts” and “lasts,” but smooth segues from one related topic to another.

Having an evenly spread, and okay, flavorful sauce to layer over your crust ensures the content of your piece is well-structured, neat and readable in an orderly, organized sense.

Choose the Right Toppings

Toppings are meant to enhance a pizza, but they’re certainly not required. Some go for simple, plain cheese, and there’s nothing wrong with this style. Some like to get a little fancy, and if you’re able to find the right combination of toppings that fits your desires, and the desires of those who are going to eat it, you’re on your way to winning a Nobel Prize in Pizza Making. Sort of.

What are your piece’s “toppings”? This is where you get to examine your diction, your adjectives (a minimal amount of them, of course) and ultimately decide what should be included in the final product and shouldn’t.

This is probably the toughest step; you’re critiquing your own skill and creativity, which is a pendulum that can swing in two drastically different directions (“I’m the best writer ever, I don’t need to revise anything!” or “I’m the worst, no one will ever want to read this, I’m just going to delete the whole thing and start over”).

It takes time to find the right balance between all the elements we’ve discussed so far. Once you do (and this could take time—and that’s okay), you’re ready for the final step in your pizza making/editing adventure.

Cover with Cheese—and Bake

Cheese is more often than not the final layer of a pizza recipe before sliding the brilliant creation into the oven to bake. You can add as much or as little as you want, but this last step is what makes a pizza a pizza, and not just baked dough with tomato sauce on top.

In this step, you’ll review everything you’ve done up to this point. Is the crust solid, a good enough foundation to support the rest of what goes on top? Is the sauce spread evenly and thick enough that every bite will leave the diner satisfied? Are there enough toppings to keep the experience interesting, without overwhelming the overall taste of each slice? Does it look presentable, even before entering a 400 degree oven?

Once you add the cheese, your pizza—whatever you’ve written, revised and refined—is as good as it’s going to get. Let it rest in the oven of your mind for a bit. Bring it out again, let cool, and admire your (almost) perfect creation. 

Editing is hard, especially when we’re naturally so critical of our own work. Break the process up into steps and let those steps build comfortably on one another. Start with what’s most important and save the tweaking and “spicing up” for last. Then let yourself enjoy what you’ve accomplished, before sharing it with others.

Now if you’ll excuse us. Pizza for breakfast (while simultaneously editing articles) sounds pretty good right now.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.