Self-editing is one of the most widely discussed “craft” topics for writers and everyone has their own B.S. methods and tricks. Most of the tricks are just common sense, such as AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS, because you will never not ever catch all of your own typos, but you can try! (And you should try…nothing is worse than typos. Not taxes, not typhus, not anything.) Here are a few things I suggest.
1. Oh god, just hire someone else to do it. They’re probably better at it than you. No, not probably, they are. I just read six websites that all said something like “The author is the best person to edit their own work” and that’s such a load of garbage. You are certifiably the worst, because you know the material too well. Find someone who doesn’t know it at all.
2. You don’t have any money for a proofer? Same here. Have any writer friends with free time? HA! Writers don’t have free time, but good friends will gladly look over your work, just know that they’re super busy and 80% of them won’t end up having the time they thought they would. So don't expect the world from them.
3. Come to terms with the fact that even if someone else does proof your work, you will have to proof your work. Deal with it.
4. Buying Thai food helps deal with it. Anything with pan-seared boneless duck. Eating an orange and sipping some Mexican coke also helps.
5. Once your work feels “done,” don’t give it to anyone—put it away for a few weeks and don’t even think about it. It’s not thinking about you. It’s just not that into you. All your friends are right about him. Sorry.
6. Now take it back out and wipe off the dust and stray dried up Thai noodles. It’s on a Cloud Drive? Probably still has Thai all over it. Clean it. Purify it. And get ready to kill it.
7. Print a copy. Don’t argue, just do it. You’ll catch way more typos looking at a printed page than a screen because THE GODS DEEM IT SO!
8. If it’s a whole huge book and Kinkos says it’ll cost you $35, make a mock-up book at Lulu or Createspace. Those cost $3 to $6 bucks at most and they come in book form. Bud Smith taught me that trick, and he’s a legit certified Beastmaster, so trust him.
9. Get some Post-it tabs, a red pen, and read one story or chapter or poem at a time. Go slow. Relax. Yawn a few times. Stay focused. Take little breaks between each chapter or story. Don’t try to shoot the moon in one sitting. That’s like trying to eat a 24 ounce steak without silverware on your first date with a supermodel. How so? I don’t know, it just is. Go easy, tiger.
10. During these little breaks between chapters, go ahead and screw around on Facebook or Pintrest or Tinder or read the NY Times or stare at a coffee cup and daydream about David Lynch singing you a lullaby about pie. Take a mental break, is what I’m saying.
11. If you can do this in a place or room where you didn’t write your original draft, that’s good. Get yourself into a totally different frame of mind and environment so you’re looking at it with the clearest eyes possible. Or go ride a train. Go find a quiet spot in the woods. Go to Dave & Busters and sit in the Jurassic Park 3-D ride/game and get it done. Somewhere new, is the point. Write in one spot, edit in another.
12. If you like, you can read the book in someone else’s voice. Maybe Christopher Walken or Phil Hartman doing Troy McClure. (You may remember him from such films as...) Do this out loud in public. Film it. Post it online. We’re laughing with you!
13. But really, if you can read it out loud somewhere, that helps. When you stumble over words, you will know the wording and flow is off. Fix that, maybe.
14. Flag and mark every single damn thing you see. And if you see a lot, that’s good. It means the reader won’t see those. If you see just a few, go back to step 1. You missed something somewhere. Go back to step 1 either way.
15. Once you finish a chapter or story, go back to your original doc and make those changes before moving ahead because some edits you marked will inspire further tweaks and unless you jotted down every single thought you had (you didn’t) you’ll forget some if you keep trucking along. Besides, you don’t want to spend all day editing your book at Starbucks or Chuck E Cheese or wherever you are, do you?
16. If you can’t print a copy and you can’t make a book version online and you MUST edit it on the screen, consider increasing the font, changing the font, and make sure it’s double-spaced. Doing all three will make the text somewhat funny-looking and foreign and that’s what you want. You want it to look strange and new to your eyes so you can spot mistakes. Familiarity breeds…something, I forget what. But it doesn’t help catch typos.
17. Holy shit, you’ve been working all day? Go shower and say hello to your wife or husband. Don’t have one? Go get one and then come back and start editing again.
18. You’re back? That took you longer than I expected. Did you try online dating? Tinder’s kinda shitty, huh? Whatever, you reeled in a keeper and then you showered and said hi and now you’re back. That’s what matters.
19. Now that you have proofed each and every chapter and story and poem and you entered all your edits and you feel “done done,” give your work to a friend. Give them a printed version too. Don’t you dare make someone sit in front of a screen for 14 hours reading your short story about dandelions and gnomes and shit. Do you want to make their eyes bleed or something?
20. Make sure you tell them exactly what you need from them. Make them a list. Lists are fun. Add something about Thai food and Jurassic Park. Make sure they know what they’re looking for—just a content edit for sense, or are they doing a line-edit for your missing damn antecedent agreements and verb tense mistakes? You foolish foolish writer you.
21. Now enter their edits too, and you’ll notice as you read through (yes, read the whole thing again as you enter their edits) that you’ll find more edits beyond that. Seeing mistakes others find attunes your eyes to finding more too.
22. You’re done? Congrats! (You’re never done, by the way, but congrats.) Now go hire a proofreader anyway because that friend who looked at it missed all kinds of shit and so did you. But it’s better than it was, and that’s nice.