Writing Tips #3 - Editing Blindness


Why is it hard to edit your own writing — even if you’re willing to chop away mercilessly at all that hard work? You move words around, read it again and again, but still it doesn’t come across as you’d like. Besides, any reader can pick out typos you missed ten times over. Editing blindness is familiar to all of us. To understand where it comes from, this article makes an interesting comparison: when the brain has a map with a familiar route and destination, it switches to automatic mode. Just like you can take a turn that leads to your work while you mean to attend a party, your brain assumes the text already is what you intend it to be. It skips over mistakes, and fills in the gaps where logic lacks. After all, it knows what the route and destination is: no need to read signs. Here are a few ways to revert this familiarity with your text, and have your brain look at it as foreign.


1. If possible, let it rest

The easiest way to get some distance from your writing is to let it sit for a few weeks. If you’re working on multiple projects at once, you might be able to work on something else and create some distance from the one you need to edit. However, deadlines might not allow this luxury.

2. Change the page

Change the font, the letter size, or the background colour, and your brain might be tricked to treat the text as new. Even reading it in a different room, or lying on the floor, can help. This may allow you to catch typos or inconsistencies that your brain was blind for earlier.

3. Read it out loud

If you know the destination of a trip, you don’t have choose each turn consciously. To become aware of every step you take — all the words on the page — it can help to read them out loud. Typos will trip you up more easily, and it shows how well your writing flows.

4. Ctrl+F filler words

Search your first draft for filler words, see if you need them, and cut what you can. The good thing is you delegate finding blind spots to your computer. Search common filler words and discover which ones you use too often. This does not include key words; don’t be afraid to use “paracetamol” a hundred and twenty times if that’s the subject of your research. Search for words like: very, actually, only, really, however, kind of, that, and just. Skim the fat, as they say.

5. Involve someone else

No matter how experienced you are, if you work on text long enough there’s only so much you can do. You've seen the words too many times. A fresh set of eyes can point out what you missed: ask for specific feedback, from the global structure to your word choice.