How to Read Your Writing Objectively

Photo credit: Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr
So you've finished your first draft and given it ample time to cool and it's now time to dive into the wonderful writing world of editing. But where to begin?

The key to completing an effective round of editing is to try to read your writing as objectively as possible—which can be understandably difficult, as writing is a very personal and subjective experience. You're very close to your writing–it's something that you spent hours upon hours creating, a world that you lived in for days at a time. How are you supposed to look at it objectively?

With a few easy steps, editing efficiently isn’t quite as difficult as it sounds:

  1. Take a break. Yes, I mean the cooling off period. Skipping this step makes everything else unnecessarily difficult, as it makes looking at your work objectively very near impossible. Please do not skip this step—you'll only make the editing process that much more difficult. 

  2. Go in knowing that you're going to make changes. Big changes—don't be afraid to change plot points and kill off characters and rewrite entire sections of your draft. Remember that these changes are exciting—every edit you make improves your story that much more. I know it sounds scary, but changes are good, and if you start your edit with this mindset, you've already won half the battle. 

  3. Read your writing. I've already written about the process of my first read through, so I'm not going to outline it here, but the goal of your first read through is to see your story as a whole and mark down what changes you can make to better your manuscript. This is where you decide on big changes—on adding an entirely new tangent, or creating or killing off characters, or giving your readers a better look at your protagonist's past. Whatever it is, this is where you want to think about the big edits.

  4. Read your writing again. Depending on how carefully you read your manuscript during your first reading, this step may or may not be necessary (but it certainly won't hurt). When I do my first reading, I try to distance myself from the writing—I focus more on the plot as a whole and read it relatively quickly. The second reading is the time for more detailed notes, with the big changes in mind—where will you add that extra scene? What needs to be changed to incorporate that new character? What will you toss and rewrite entirely? This is the time for a more careful round of edit notes. 

  5. Edit. Once you have your notes in place and a plan for your edits, it's now time to get to work. Remember not to look at the enormous mountain of work ahead of you—focus instead on the next edit, the next fix you have to make or scene you have to write. As long as you make steady progress (even if it's only an edit a day), you'll soon be able to look back and smile at all that you've accomplished. 

  6. Have fun. Seriously—you're a writer and this edit thing is just part of what you do. Try to have fun with the process and remember—every edit you make is improving your work, and if you ask me, that's more than enough to smile about. 

Now it's your turn: What tips do you have for reading your writing objectively?


J. A. Bennett said...

Hand it off, then read it some more. It's all you can do to make it better :)

Ava Jae said...

Agreed! There are two advantages to handing it off--namely that you get opinions from people who are completely distanced from your work (which is priceless) and you also gather some distance yourself while waiting for responses from beta readers/editors. Great advice!

Ava Jae said...

All of your tips are fantastic--reading your work aloud can help you catch errors and awkward sentences/phrases that you wouldn't have noticed otherwise; knowing your weaknesses can help tremendously in working towards improvement (and avoiding those said weaknesses) and critique partners are invaluable in the editing process. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Emily! Really fantastic tips. :)

Hicaro said...

Useful advice. My writing sucks a lot because I usually use jargons and random ideas about my own vision of the world. Of course, when writing technical articles or more serious content, I research and use data accordingly. However, my own way to express abstraction is weird. Perhaps because english is not my native language or I'm not reading enough. Anyway, I'm learning a lot with your articles. Thank you!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Hicaro! I'm glad to hear you've been finding my blog useful and I wish you the best with your writing!

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