Reviewing your writing from an editor’s perspective can be a challenge, even for experienced writers. Here are strategies that can help you bring fresh eyes to your written work.
When you write, it can be easy to get caught up in the craft of wordplay and storytelling, colorful metaphors and powerful images — and it can feel wonderful when that focused creativity gains momentum.
But what happens when your narrative is sculpted or your draft complete? How do you step back, break away from the craftsperson point of view, and critically evaluate your writing? Reviewing your own writing from an editor’s perspective can be a challenge, even for experienced writers, but there are ways to make the job easier. Here are a few strategies that can help you bring fresh eyes to your own written work.
Switch to a different activity
“No matter what I’m working on, whether it’s creative writing or editorial, hitting a block happens,” says Southern California-based writer and editor Katie Kailus. “Stepping away for a bit, focusing on something else, and then coming back and refocusing usually provides me with the clear mind and fresh eyes I need to continue.”
For Kailus, that “something else” could be a variety of activities: doing laundry, running an errand, or taking a stroll on the beach. In your own creative and editorial process, experiment and see what non-writing activities give you the clear headspace you need to return to your work with a new perspective.
Read something unrelated
If I start to feel spent on a writing project, I often pull up online newspapers and catch up on headlines. Reading whatever’s new on Humans of New York, Facebook, and Twitter can also provide a mental change of pace. Reading something unrelated to my own writing takes my head out of the subject matter and helps me look at everything with a clearer perspective when I return to it.
Use a different typeface
Years ago, I discovered that reading my own work in Arial made me see things differently than when I used Monaco or Andale. In fact, I was surprised by just how different my writing seemed when represented by even a moderately different font. When it comes time to review your own work, see if cycling through typefaces can help you get fresh eyes on your writing.
Use a different device
Reading your own work on your phone vs. your tablet vs. your laptop vs. the printed page may enable you to see new things in each context. For me, reading an article draft on my iPhone lets me more easily imagine myself as the final reader of the published article, rather than the person writing it, and evaluate and edit the piece accordingly.
“When I’m really stumped, printing out a copy of what I’m writing and reading and editing it on paper can oftentimes generate a completely different result than when I’m reading on screen,” Kailus says.
Sometimes the buzz and bustle of a coffee shop is just what I need to see my work anew. Other times, the peace of a park bench is better. Changing your physical location can often give you the editorial distance you need to evaluate your work with a different perspective.
Eat and drink
When I get deep into writing, I can lose track of time and push back eating and drinking for longer than I should. When I feel that a fresh perspective on my work is needed, I’ll often force myself to break away from the text, even if I’m on a roll, eat and drink, and then return with fresh energy. It’s enticing to ride a creative wave and power through for as long as possible, but when it comes time to engage with text from a fresh perspective, a nutritional break can make a big difference.
Change your (physical) point of view
I’ve interviewed a number of writers who find that their physical position — sitting, standing, walking — changes the way they interact with their words. I’ve found this to be true myself. If I’m at a point where a fresh look at my own work is helpful, a change in elevation may be all that’s needed.
Listen to music
There’s nothing like a little Mozart, metal, or Motown to break you out of a writing rut — especially if that music contains rhythms and language that are notably different than the text you’re crafting. By engaging your brain in a different way, music can help you reset and see your work with a beginner’s mind again.
Sleep on it
An editor of mine once told me that, after completing his final draft of any piece, he always waits to send it off or publish it until the next morning. He reviews it again, first thing, with coffee and fresh eyes, to see if any further changes need to be made. While I don’t do this with everything I write, it’s been a helpful tactic when I’ve needed it.
Read it out loud
Reading my text out loud to myself makes me see things in new ways — and having a friendly collaborator read it to me can be equally revealing. You never know what words or phrases your reading partner may choose to emphasize, or how that person’s recitation might make you see facets of your work you had never noticed.
Mix it up
The more challenging the piece of writing, the more times I’ll review it, and the more disparate tactics I’ll use to give myself a fresh look at it. Often, I won’t feel like a piece of writing is truly the best it can be until I’ve returned to it multiple times with fresh eyes and reviewed it in multiple different contexts.
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