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How to self-edit your writing: 8 tips

Learning how to self-edit your writing empowers you to polish your prose. Ernest Hemingway famously quipped that you should ‘write drunk and edit sober’. You need a state of mental clarity that allows you to be methodical when editing.

Learning how to self-edit your writing empowers you to polish your prose. Ernest Hemingway famously quipped that you should ‘write drunk and edit sober’. You need a state of mental clarity that allows you to be methodical when editing.

It often pays to read what published authors have to say on the nuts and bolts of writing. Here are three additional quotes to keep in mind when editing your own writing (or considering fiction editing services):

How to self-edit: Advice from great writers

1. Dr Seuss, author of much-loved children’s books, was a master of concision (packing as much meaning into as few words as possible):

‘So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.’

2. Popular novelist Jodi Picoult reminds us that it is useful to have different strategies for writing and editing. You don’t have to be meticulous when drafting, but you must be when you edit your writing:

‘You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’

3. Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s songs are full of witty wordplay and pack complex emotions into brief musical numbers. He advocates not editing as you go but separating the writing and editing stages:

‘The worst thing you can do is censor yourself as the pencil hits the paper. You must not edit until you get it all on paper. If you can put everything down, stream-of-consciousness, you’ll do yourself a service.’

Do you edit your own work? What editing methods or strategies do you use?

By Jordan

Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

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