Monday, May 16, 2016

Self-Editing Is For Suckers by Jim Hill

Why is it so easy to edit someone else’s writing and so hard to edit your own? I asked this question on Facebook and received a lot of excellent answers. And a few hilarious ones (looking at you, Julia). The consensus is that we're too close to our writing to be objective. We all get that, right?

That objectivity is why writing workshops and crit groups are a necessity for improving your work. When I read someone else's pages, I see all of my flaws in their writing. (Thanks, terrible writing partners!)

Putting aside bigger revision issues for today, let's look at copy edit concerns. Typos. Basic grammar. These are my fatal flaws. My kryptonite. My third example and unnecessary metaphor. I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to shitty-first-second-and-third-drafts. I am blind to the copy editing problems I create while crafting that perfect gem of a story (Hahahahahaha. *cries*). It's kind of embarrassing at this point. Its v. it's. There and their. I mean, c'mon, Jim. Really? Then there are all the throat-clearing words, and overuse of others like "like" for example.

I'm a job creator, and that job is copy editor.

I've gotten better. Practice, intention, and attention all make a big difference. I've also discovered a handful of online tools that help with seeing the forest. Come with me and we'll check them out, but leave a trail of breadcrumbs, because forest joke. *groan*

My reaction to bad jokes.
Come for the writing tips, stay for the jokes. *tap tap* Is this thing on?


Word cloud by Wordle.
Wordle creates word clouds from text. Not only is this a fun distraction, but it's also a useful tool to get that thirty-thousand-foot-macro-look at your writing. I pasted my entire manuscript in and shuddered at the giant LIKE that claimed so much attention. I went back into the book and counted ninety-one similes that began with like. After revising, I got it down to like only eighty-eight. Win!

The Hemingway App

The Hemingway App in action.
Paste your text into the Hemingway App one and it kicks out an immediate review of your writing. Color coded highlights help you spot problem areas onscreen. It checks for readability by grade level and gives a word count. The highlighted areas tell you if a sentence is hard to read, very hard to read, if there are simpler alternatives, written in passive voice, and counts adverbs. It really hates adverbs.

The online version is free. They have a paid desktop app too.


Grammarly in action.
Grammarly has become my go-to writing partner. Like the Hemingway App, there's an online version and a desktop app. It also offers a browser plug-in that reviews any text you enter on the fly. Very helpful for social media updates.

I liked the free version so much I ponied up the annual subscription fee for the premium service. It's much less than my monthly Starbucks bill and boosts my productivity even more than my favorite venti iced caramel macchiato.

I draft short pieces (like this one) directly in the desktop app. For my novel, I pasted full scenes in for review. The unobtrusive interface is clean and offers pop-up details so you can see why it flagged something, and make the choice to correct it or not. A cool incentive to better writing is the score shown in the corner. It kicks my competitive mojo up a notch and makes me strive for that perfect 100.

As the attention grabbing headline says, self-editing is for suckers. These tools don't help with the big picture stuff of story, character arcs, themes, etc., but they do smooth the road. Copy edit and grammar issues are speed bumps that distract you and your crit partners from the quality of your writing. Not to diminish the value of these vital aspects by any means, but in revision at any stage, why get tangled up in the nuts and bolts when what you want to work on is the machine?

Now, get out there and write like you mean it.



  1. Wonderful post, Jim! I knew abut wordle but not Hemingway and Grammarly! I'll check them out!

  2. Have you been listening in at my house? Because just this morning, while working on edits, I told my husband I've been getting hung up on the trees when I need to see the forest.

  3. Hey -thanks for the tools to check out Jim! Love the idea (and name) of Wordle. As I write my first draft I also create a running list of words I find myself repeating to go through in revision and replace or cut (if I dont clean up in the 1st draft). My book Joshua and the Lightning Road is set in a misty land so it was overblown with mist and murk and fog. Ack! Had to cut and decide where it was important to keep and where not.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!