Walk Away. Just. Walk. Away.
Anyone who knows Innovative Editing knows that its chief executive editor, Jeannette DiLouie, is all about producing and publishing quality copy.
This is Jeannette DiLouie, and I endorse this message.
That’s why I also endorse the concept of walking away from your copy during the editorial process. It’s one of the best ways to spot mistakes if you’re not relying on a separate editor during the publishing process.
You can argue all you want about how you don’t have the time to “just walk away.” But consider this: How many times have you written something strong and edited it into clear-cut precision, only to look at it after it’s published and wonder how it got so bad?
Then consider this: How much otherwise unnecessary extra work do such mistakes create for you?
There might be words misspelled, commas misplaced and vocabulary choices that make you scratch your head in bewilderment. On top of that, you see clearly gaping holes in your logical flow.
If you’re noticing that it’s bad (or at least not as polished as it should be), then you’re clearly not long-term delusional. You’re a smart guy or gal, after all; there’s no way you’d be doing what you’re doing otherwise.
Yet even smart guys and gals can be short-term delusional. Don’t think you’re immune.
Blame it on the human eye or the human brain or a combination of both. But when we stare at a screen too long, we start getting the writer’s form of tunnel vision. It can also be thought of as a matter of professional blinders or rose-colored glasses.
Take your pick.
Whichever way, it means that all we see on paper is what we’re thinking in our heads. And what we’re thinking in our heads makes sense to us. And what’s in our heads is what we’re seeing on paper.
That kind of typically unconscious cyclical thinking is a significant enemy if you’re looking to publish polished business copy.
That’s why, if you can, step away.
Go get yourself a glass of water. Keeping yourself properly hydrated is important, didn't you know? Go discuss something important or unimportant with a colleague in a separate room or cubicle away from your desk.
(Stop hyperventilating. It only need be for a minute or two. Five at most.)
Then return to your desk and, if at all possible, start working on something else.
Turn to a new writing project. Answer a few emails. File a few claims. Or tackle whatever else is on your to-do list.
Once you’ve given yourself as long of a break as you reasonably can, go back to your copy and read it again. Does it still sound as good, or are you picking up aspects you hadn’t noticed before?
A “your” instead of “you’re” or an “aye” instead of “eye” (which makes sense since you were just watching that pirate movie the other day)
A semicolon where a comma or colon would work much better, clarifying the sentence in the process
A synonym that would clear up any unintended offense… unless the reader is deliberately looking for trouble
Areas where you can clear up misunderstandings, redirect attention and otherwise make your point better.
Walking away from your copy can do all of that and more.
It’s not a cure-all, of course. Mistakes will still slip through your cognitive fingers. But it can reduce the number of mistakes you make – significantly.
Try it out for yourself and see.