One technique I like to use when self-editing is to take on different “personas.” Here’s how I do it.
Once I have gone through writing many drafts of my manuscript, cutting, tightening, bringing it to the correct word count, I set it aside for about a week and work on something else. When I pick it up again, this is where the other personas come in.
First, I try to imagine I’m the editor who will be reading this for the first time. Would she/he be pulled in by the first line? Does the timeline of the story or article flow effortlessly from one scene or point to the next? Are my transitions smooth? Have I made an effort to catch all of the typos, my particular nemesis. Most importantly, if I were an editor would I want to keep reading this? Would it appeal to the audience our publication is trying to reach?
THEN, I switch gears (waiting an additional two or more days) and read my piece in a completely different mode. I now try to imagine I am the child (or adult) who will pick up the magazine or newspaper, looking for something interesting to read. Would this story or article be it? Again, I want a compelling opening, smooth flow, good transitions. But as I put myself in the reader’s shoes (or mind!) I try to anticipate their attitude and questions. Does this story or article speak to me? Can I relate to the main characters and their problems? Are these difficulties and the characters’ reactions and solutions to them believable? Will this piece give me information I need, want, or otherwise find useful and interesting? Does the timeline make sense? If I’ve said something at the beginning of a story, have I unwittingly contradicted it (even in a small way) later on? Surprisingly, since I began doing this, I’ve noted quite of few of the last two oversights in a number of published books! I’m not sure how these books got published and these errors slipped in, but I definitely don’t want to join the ranks of these authors!
Since I began following this technique, many years ago, I’ve found that my manuscripts are stronger and my article and short story sales increased. I found it especially useful when I was trying for my first sale to the “Kids’ Reading Room” page of the Los Angeles Times, 10 years ago, and it was successful. I’ve since sold them over 20 stories!
Why not try putting on other “personas” as you self-edit your manuscripts and see if that approach makes a big difference for you?