Why You Can’t Edit Your Own Work – No, Really!




I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how often you go over your essay, your short story, chapter or novel, you seem to find errors?  You spend day after day combing through the pages, ferreting out each and every misspelled word, misused word, unresolved plot piece, every misplaced spot of punctuation, and to what end?  More seem to pop up.  They seem to grow in the dark while you sleep.

Of course the reason is that you can’t really see each error.  Not in the way you need to, at least.  Why?  Because you know what you meant to say.  You know the correct spelling, the perfect word, and when to take a breath while reading.  You know it.  And, sadly, what you “know” to be true, your brain will aid you in seeing… or in the case of errors, NOT SEEING.

Great.  So, what’s the answer? 

You may already know that reading your own work out loud uses a different set of mental muscles than does a sight-read.  This, then, would be the first step.  While reading aloud really helps–while it catches a great many additional mistakes, it still won’t catch them all.  Why not?  See above.  The brain is not your friend in this case.  It dresses things up for you.

You’re probably saying to yourself, “I don’t care.  What are editors for?”  

Really?  Hmm.  I’d say you haven’t noticed that editing by a publisher is a thing of the past.  In fact, getting an agent to take your work seriously it has best be as perfect as you can arrange it to be.

Well, if you can’t count on your own sight-read, and reading aloud still has the potential for leaving errors in the manuscript, what do you do?

When it comes down to it, I do have a suggestion, and I wrote about it in an earlier post.  Read, “It Takes Two: The One on One Method for one method to insure your work is clean and ready.

Today’s challenge is to pick up several pages of your own past work, pages you have considered to be finished, and read them.  The older the pieces the better, as the mind filling in trick grows weaker in time.  See if you pages are perfect.  If they are, find a friend with a sharp eye to read them.

The thing to watch for is introduced error.  Once you get into an editing mode you can get quite energetic, and in that energetic mood actually introduce additional errors while fixing old ones.

Your thoughts?


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