Only Idiots Edit Themselves

Trust me, I’ve been an idiot more than a few times. Indeed, it seems to have taken a two-by-four over the head to drum this fact into my thick skull: You can’t edit yourself. I’m an editor for Pete’s sake, and I’m able to edit what others write, missing nothing. So, why shouldn’t that same skill translate to my own prose?

The truth is you can look something over ten times and still miss the same mistakes. You can read and re-read, even aloud (and that certainly is advisable) something you have written and not catch mistakes because you are not truly reading what you have written. I kid you not. Very often, our mind inserts the correct word or spelling or phrase that on paper is simply not there.  Check this out as an explanation of the kind of tricks of which our minds are capable:

Consider this as well, you are too close to the work. Let me repeat that,


I know for me when I have pored over a chapter, and I mean pored like a gallon of paint poured, over and over, till I can practically read it from memory, I become blind as a radar-less bat to my own mistakes, misspellings, and grammatical errors. Bad, very bad from an editing standpoint. It’s essential that the piece you are editing be fresh and new to you. One thing that helps is to shove it in a drawer and not look at it for six months.

Funny story about that. After beginning my second novel, Back to the Glen, , it seemed we had family crisis after family crisis fully preventing me from continuing the novel. I’d written about one third of it, and it sat on my computer untouched for almost a year. (Please before you judge my commitment to writing, remind yourself I have eight kids.) My husband and I were traveling, and I brought my work with me in the car.  I dusted off the file and began reading. After a few chapters, I decided to read aloud, letting my husband have a sneak preview of Book II. Soon, I was engrossed reading along and getting excited when I came to the chilling climax of a chapter where the main character was maimed in a particularly surprising and gruesome twist. My husband blurted out, “I can’t believe you did that to him!” and I gasped back, “Neither can I!”

You see, I had completely forgotten what I had written. We laughed and laughed over that. It was rather exciting, too, to read my own work as it were someone else’s. Incidentally, I was able to edit those chapters quite well and future edits by others found them nearly pristine. Just goes to show you how that distance from the work is key to editing.  So if you can’t afford to wait six months to read your own material from a fresh perspective, it would be wise to consider having a professional or well-respected peer edit your work.

Incidentally, I fly without the safety net of an editor when I post on my blog. That is,  I edit myself. Have fun finding typos.

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About Carla Coon

Carla Coon has been happily married to her husband Darrell for 25 years, living in Upstate New York and raising their eight children. They are new grandparents to three baby girls. Carla’s first novel, THE GLEN, was born of a synergy of two great passions: religious studies and the outdoors. Carla Coon's professional experience includes working as Editor of LifeWork’s Magazine for NYSRTLC, where she also contributed a monthly column. Carla wrote in-depth articles for the National Catholic Register, and was published in the New Oxford Review, Catholic Faith & Family, the Press & Sun-Bulletin and more. In other positions, she was a Program Coordinator for a non-profit groups and Director of Religious Education at a large parish. Once a professional ballroom dance instructor, Carla enjoys music and dance, roaming art museums, and travel with her husband. Her current work involves coordinating the establishment of family support groups in Upstate NY.
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6 Responses to Only Idiots Edit Themselves

  1. Thanks for the reminder! I have also learned the hard way. “Oh, I can do it myself…” Then you read , after posting or publishing, and mistakes scream at you from the page! How did I miss those BEFORE throwing it out to the world?

    I need an editor! 🙂

  2. Carla Coon says:

    You’re so right, Paula. The how-did-I-miss-this head-bang gets old fast, doesn’t it?

  3. You can make it easier on the professional editor, if you edit it yourself. But as you
    learned, so did I. Your attention is focused on the content more than the way you
    express it. Yes, after having others edit my first novel, I found more mistakes that they made in addition to my own. You can’t review the material too many times.

  4. Pingback: Only Idiots Edit Themselves By Carla Coon – A Giveaway and a Post! | So, I Read This Book Today

  5. Marigold says:

    I’m so glad you’ve said this! I could (and have) spend months editing my book only to find stupid little typos that I hadn’t picked up the first fifty times. It’s lovely to be reassured by someone who’s actually an editor herself 🙂

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