Are You Really Saying What You Think You’re Saying?


Self-editing can be a tricky part of the writing process – possibly more so than you realize.

That’s why, the more important the project you’re working on, the less you should rely on your own observational skills for the final copy.

The act of self-editing is a step. It's a very important step, but a step nonetheless.

The Purpose of Self-Editing

Regardless of whether you’re shooting out a personal email or working on a corporate project, self-editing is a must for one simple reason: Your first draft is never going to be perfect.

I could tell you editorial horror stories about first drafts, including some of my own, that jumped around with no logical train of thought, repeated themselves to the point of distraction, or didn’t have the necessary transitional flow to keep readers’ interest.

Believe it or not, that’s okay though.

As I always stress to my creative writing clients and students, first drafts are usually bad because they’re supposed to be bad. As the next natural step after an idea, they’re a work in progress. The writer is still brainstorming to a certain extent, figuring out what he or she wants to get down and what isn’t actually necessary.

It’s a process, and it can be a messy one. There’s no shame in admitting that first drafts are several steps away from a finished work. There’s only an issue if you try to pretend otherwise.

A good self-edit or two, however, can make a world of difference, allowing writers to sort out their own thoughts before they present them to someone else.

The Purpose of Another Pair of Eyes

At the same time, self-editing is not the end-all, be-all in constructing a polished final copy. Sometimes far from it.

Here’s why…

Unless you’re jotting down someone’s address or a phone message, writing out words can be a very personal process. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a private email, a professional publication or something creative. The vocabulary choices you choose come from who you are and how you’re feeling in the moment.

They’re an extension of you.

That’s both a good thing and a problem.

You’ve probably heard some version of the Biblical proverb about trying to remove splinters from others’ eyes while ignoring our own planks. That saying holds just as true about our writing as our actions.

And I’m not just talking about typos (which I still maintain are not the end of the world).

As we write and then again as we edit ourselves, we know exactly what we’re trying to say. We hear the tone of voice we want to use. We understand the intended connotations of the words we put down. And we see the bigger picture we want to convey.

The problem is that nobody else can. Not when they can’t hear us and aren’t inside our brains.

So when we think we’re sounding enthusiastic, we might actually be coming across as obnoxious.

When we truly believe we’re addressing an issue in a logical, professional manner, we could be coming across as coldhearted jerks.

And while we view our final pieces as flowing smoothly like the steps in a beautiful ballroom dance, we might have made intense leaps of logic that much more resemble a mosh pit.

That’s why asking for a second pair of eyes on your manuscript is such a good idea, especially if the document in question is an important one. If you don’t have an editorial department to handle that kind of thing, ask a colleague, a friend or a freelancer.

The difference between a self-edit and an outside opinion can be phenomenal, allowing you to communicate better and make a much bigger impact on your audience and your customers.

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