Editing Principle 13: Quick Quality-Check Hacks

How can you tell if what you’ve written is any good?

You can ask friends to read your [whatever it is] , and tell you what they think. That will yield an array of answers, but those answers will tell you more about what your friends think of you than the quality of your work.

You can solicit a professional opinion. (Yay, editors!)

Before you do that, however, there are a few cheaper ways to start training yourself to read your work as an editor—or a stranger—might. (In the wonderful collection Mystery and Manners, Flannery O'Connor recommends that a writer “judge himself with a stranger's eye and a stranger's severity.”)

Here are four such ways to get out of your own head when evaluating your writing:

  • Read your work out loud.

  • Listen to someone else read it out loud. This takes uncommon courage.

  • Change the font. I find that switching to a looser font makes the gassy parts of one's prose stand out more, which helpfully highlights where and what to cut. So, e.g., you’ll draft in Palatino then switch to Courier New for revising.

  • Change venues, i.e. read it in an unusual (for you) place. I’m serious. Print it out and leave your home or office and read it on the subway, bus, in line at Arby’s, wherever.

You could also try what I termed a voice-check: Ask yourself what someone who wasn’t a fan of yours would say in response to your work. The point is not to try to please these people, but to help you decide what you value most in your work, and what you’d like to improve.

Megan Hustad