Writing Wednesdays is a series on writing tips and tricks that are published on Wednesdays. Not necessarily every Wednesday. But Wednesdays.
If you’re a writer or an editor, you might have heard of the phrase “kill your darlings”, which is commonly attributed to William Faulkner. The idea is to not get too attached to your writing and have no qualms about axing bits that you like but are unnecessary.
Easier said than done!
It’s hard to put a distance between our work and us. Especially if we toiled over it for so long, or we are passionate about the subject matter! But remember: we write for our readers and not ourselves. When our writing is clear and smooth, it will have more impact.
Here are five tips and tricks I use to reduce self-editing angst and make the process more effective:
1. Take A Break
I always chill before plunging into the edits. A break does wonders in clearing a head full of writing. During my break, I’d freshen up by eating, drinking, or splashing water on my face. Then I can go back to my work and review it with a more critical eye.
I find returning to work the next day most effective, but if pressed for time, an hour could work.
2. Trick the Brain
Self-editing is hard because we develop personal attachments to our work as we write.
My solution: trick myself into thinking that I am editing someone else’s work! I just make the document look different, like so:
- Change the font size, colour, and type
- Print it out, so that I review the work on a different medium than the screen
Tricking the brain is handy especially when I am unable to break long enough to put sufficient mental distance between my work and I.
3. Read it Aloud
This is great for people with a propensity for verbosity. Like me!
I’ll know when something needs correcting if it sounds unwieldy and rambly when read aloud. If it sounds cumbersome when spoken, it probably reads cumbersome too.
4. What’s the Focus?
Every time I am reluctant to axe something I wrote, I ask questions like
- How does this relate to the key focus?
- If I took this out, will it make a difference?
Always have a clear and solid idea of The Point of writing, and refer back to it.
5. Use an App
In the absence of an editor colleague, I rely on Hemingway. Not the great writer himself (I wish!), but the Hemingway App.
The app aims to “(make) your writing bold and clear”. I just copy my writing, paste it into the text box, and then the app will highlight all the bits that need improving. My writing will also get an overall readability rating.
P.S No need to follow every suggestion made by the app of course! Sometimes we break the rules in order to bring across a point more powerfully (case in point: the last paragraph of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road). The Hemingway app is best used to improve overall readability.