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Lessons learned from editing my own writing (and why I haven’t hired a copyeditor… yet)

For months, I’ve been procrastinating a task on my to-do list: copyediting my own blog. I usually copyedit my posts before I publish them, but I started to notice some inconsistencies across my blog posts. One post would use title caps and another wouldn’t, for example, so I started to wonder whether there were other inconsistencies that I could catch and correct.


As I began to copyedit the posts on my blog, I learned a few lessons that I think could apply for some of you who may be editing your own writing as well.


Lesson #1: Writers will always have preferences

I edit in both UK and US English… and I have my preferences. US spelling will always come more naturally to me, but I really hate enforcing title caps (which is the standard in US English). Title caps is styling headlines and titles with capitalized words. I find the rules to be too complicated and they can also be subject to interpretation; of course, if I need to enforce title caps for a project, I will, but why make myself do it for my own blog?


Rules governing title caps.
I hate title caps rules! Source: Chicago Manual of Style.

As an editor, I also have preferences, but it's important to try to respect author's preferences as long as the grammar and syntax is correct, the writing is clear, and the preferences are enforced consistently. I noticed that I had been trying to enforce title caps in some blogs posts, but not in others. Using title caps in my blog posts is a good way to practice the rules, but I just really hate it, and it demotivates me from writing blog posts.


Editorial decisions: I've chosen to enforce sentence caps from now on, and I will continue to use US spelling.


My style choices

  • Always use series/Oxford comma

  • US spelling

  • Use em dashes (—), no spaces surrounding, for interruptions

  • Maintain conversational tone; avoid words like “thus” and “therefore”

  • Incorporate quotes into sentences, using The Chicago Manual of Style treatment of quotations

  • Punctuation generally goes inside quotation marks


Lesson #2: Getting distance is important

I will apparently procrastinate this task for as long as possible (I’m publishing this blog post a month later than I’d hoped), and I will drag it out (I started writing this post a month ago too).


It can be difficult for writers to get enough distance from their own writing to edit it. This is one of the advantages, for any writer, of hiring a copyeditor. Writers obviously know what they're trying to say, what message they're trying to get across, so it becomes difficult to look at their writing critically and to assess how clearly it's written. The advantage of hiring a copyeditor is that they have an external, unbiased point of view (and a trained eye) to help catch things that writers can’t.


Writers are usually focused on message; copyeditors can focus on the language that communicates that message.


I can also be a bit precious about my ideas and my style of writing. I strongly prefer a conversational tone in my blog posts, but that might not always be the most effective way to communicate my message. However, I am also used to being critical of a writing style and tweaking or playing around with language to make a more effective message, so I may be more used to creating that distance between myself and my own writing more than others.


Editorial solution: One way to get around this is to let a lot of time pass between when I write and when I copyedit my writing!


Lesson #3: Thinking critically about language and working on others’ texts improves writing

Not to brag, but copyediting has greatly improved my writing. I’ve learned so much about how to write clearly and effectively as a copyeditor, and I’ve incorporated my editorial habits into my writing process: I’m constantly editing myself while I’m writing. For example, I look everything up and question everything (even if I’m certain of how to spell a word, once I have an inclination of doubt, I’ll look it up anyway).


My earlier blog posts have some errors that I would never make now. For example, in my July 2019 blog post, I wrote


“This month is short and sweet because: 1. I sliced my pinky open with a grater and it’s harder to type than you’d think and 2. I have an announcement for you!”

Now I know that 1. a complete sentence must precede a colon, and 2. a comma must precede a conjunction (such as “because”) if followed by a complete sentence. So I changed the sentence


“This month is short and sweet, because 1. I sliced my pinky open with a grater and it’s harder to type than you’d think and 2. I have an announcement for you!”

Also, on a content level, my understanding of proofreading is better now than it was when I originally wrote my Proofreading vs. editing blog post, so I've updated it. I don't know everything, and I will continue to learn and improve my writing and editing skills throughout my career, but pursuing education and professional training in editing has been a boon to my writing.


Editorial lesson: Studying grammar helps improve writing.




Lesson #4: Even copyeditors make mistakes.

When I ran a writer's workshop for a group in May, I told them that the fewer mistakes there are in their writing, the fewer mistakes there will be after it's been edited. Copyeditors are only human; they can't catch 100 percent of errors in a text, but if there are fewer errors, they can catch most of them and focus on style and communicating an effective message too.


I caught this typo in one of my blog posts:

“Research one” instead of “research on.”

Editorial lesson: Even if you're a copyeditor, you'll still make mistakes. An extra round of editing never hurts.


Conclusion

Maybe if I didn’t write all my blog posts at the last minute (oops!), I’d hire a copyeditor to help me. But editing my own writing also helps remind me of the position that writers are in when they’re working on their own texts and when they receive my edits.


Curious about writing tips? Or have more questions? I’d love to hear from you! If you want to stay tuned for my next blog post, subscribe to my newsletter.