From Kate's Writing Crate...
Learning to self-edit is a skill we can improve. There are books and classes, but, in my experience, actual experience is the best way to learn.
When I first started working for a monthly magazine, I was a good writer with room for improvement. Writing up to four articles a month for years taught me to be more organized, concise, and clear. Writing up to eight articles in a month for several magazines then became possible. Fact checking and copyediting for all these articles made me a better writer and a beginning editor, too.
I was good friends with an editor at the time so I asked her how I could become an editor one day. She gave me some excellent advice: Pick up a local newspaper and read it looking only for errors—grammatical and factual—then correct them using proofreader's marks and writing corrections like a professional. (I used Go Ahead…Proof It by K. D. Sullivan as a guide.) Rewrite captions to be punchier. Pick paragraphs at random and cut the word count by 10% without losing any facts or meaning while making sure there are transitions, then work up to 20%.
These practical exercises build our skills to catch and make corrections, smooth transitions, generate interest, and help make our writing more pleasurable to read. However, other editing changes are more subjective. Style varies person to person and publication to publication. The more you practice, the more your style will develop.
When it comes to your own work, it's best to build into any deadlines a day or two to put pieces aside so self-editing can be done with fresh eyes. Then print your work out and use a red pen to make corrections.
Start with the basics. Check for grammatical and spelling errors. Use references like The Chicago Manual of Style and refdesk.com. Double check the spellings of names and titles. In fiction, keep a list of each characters' physical attributes so you don't change eye or hair color partway through the story.
As we self-edit, it's vital to keep our writing voices strong. Our voices are what first appeal to our readers then become memorable to them.
But also keep your readers in mind. Among other things, this means using the appropriate vocabulary and correct technical jargon. Be clear. Give your readers credit for general knowledge, but include background information or explanations where needed.
Self-editing is in part instinctive, too. We recognize what sounds good so read pieces aloud. Rewrite passages that are awkward or unclear. Clarity counts. We know when we use the right word in the right place; double check that you did. Write true to yourself and your voice will shine through.
As the saying goes: Easy reading means hard writing—and great self-editing!
What makes self-editing easier for you?