How to Edit Your Own Writing like a Pro

Here are three great ways to edit your own writing—quickly and successfully.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #399

When you do a lot of writing, editing your own work is a fact of life. But it’s hard to keep perspective when editing your own work; you get caught in your head, pound the walls trying to get out, and eventually have to bribe the guards to feed you some gruel. It isn’t pretty. But you still want your writing to be amazing. Eventually you get to that point where you look over the page again and again, without even reading the words. When we’re in our heads, we can’t edit objectively, even though the writing has to turn out right anyway.

To make the writing right, use outside resources to help you get a third person perspective on your writing.

Bernice learned this the hard way. She was writing the latest ad for her Green Growing Things plant store. She had great ideas for the copy, but they were a mess. Her notes and writing snippets kept getting mixed up in her editor window. She had notes at the top of her screen, she had notes to the left, she had notes to the right—her brain was about to explode.

Draft Smarter with Multiple Windows

Fortunately, computers let you open two windows at once, so you can edit consecutive drafts on two desktop windows, side by side. When you’re preparing to write, open two windows. Write your outline in the left hand window, along with text snippets or paragraphs you want to make sure to include. Then start composing detailed prose in a righthand window by copying and pasting the ideas you want to include over. Only the best of the best makes it into the next draft, and the chaff is left behind. This is pure literary Darwinism. Survival of the fittest, all the way.

Bernice’s left hand window reads, “Mention exclusive source of Audrey IIs. Give address. Mention how nice plants are for holiday presents.” Then, she turns to the next window to write it out in prose. “Mention Audrey IIs” became, “Want the perfect holiday gift? Our unique Audrey IIs look great under a Christmas tree, while ridding your home of pesky creatures like mice, stray cats, and the occasional annoying in-law.”

When your righthand draft is done, save it. Then close your prior draft, move your just-saved window to the left, and open a new window on the right. The new blank window is ready to become your next draft!

Once you’re done writing, it’s time to start polishing. You want your spelling to be perfect, your sentence structure pristine, and your prose as readable as a STOP sign in a suburban intersection. 

When it comes to catching wordiness and spelling errors, there’s more great outside help: HemingwayApp.com

Use the HemingwayApp to Copyedit

The HemingwayApp helps you streamline your writing: killing verbosity by finding where you’re using too many unnecessary words where fewer will suffice, performing radical simplification on unnecessary complexity, and getting that passive voice eliminated, once and for all. Grammar Girl would be proud. 

HemingwayApp handles what spell-check doesn’t. In some cases, HemingwayApp actually offers alternatives for use in your writing. In Bernice’s ad, “Audrey IIs are available for purchase,” the word “purchase” gets highlighted and HemingwayApp suggests “sale” as an alternative. The rewritten ad, “Audrey IIs are available for sale!” flows better and is easier to read than the original.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.