Learning to be your own editor is like learning to be your own therapist. It’s more empathy than technical skill.
Good editors aren’t necessarily experts on grammar or style, they have a working knowledge of it and know how to spot glaring mistakes in your writing. The best ones are empathetic to the needs of the three most important people to a story: the writer, the reader and the publication. They keep the needs of all three in mind when rendering judgement on the copy and make sure each is satisfied to the best of their abilities.
Editors also understand that the purpose of writing is to communicate and the purpose of editing is to make sure the story is understood. When looking at copy, that means stepping outside of yourself and thinking about how it affects all others involved.
Managing so many different perspectives is difficult because each is in a solitary space when looking at the text. The writer isn’t thinking about the reader when sitting in front of the keyboard nor is the reader thinking about the writer when they are reading. The publication’s primary concern is how this one story fits in with all the others, which is a higher perspective than the other two.
The editor cleans up the connecting link between all three so that everybody is satisfied. They hold the reader in mind when they remove a phrase that doesn’t make sense, but make sure to keep the writer’s original intent when rewriting certain sections. Sometimes neither the reader nor the writer dictate these changes, but the needs of a publication drive the decisions.
The biggest lesson you have to learn when editing your own work is that you can’t be selfish. The decision to make changes should never be your own. It should be done with the reader in mind.
Doing this is a simple matter of asking the right questions while you are editing. The first question is “who” as in who will be reading this story. This will put you in the proper frame of mind because it takes the focus off yourself. The second part is “how” or how will this impact whomever is reading this. The last question involves the author: “Is this what I really wanted to say?” If the answer is yes then move on. If it’s no well then it’s time to make a change.
The matter of satisfying the needs of your publication is more big idea stuff. It’s a question of selecting your topic and whether it fits in with where you are writing. This in turn will dictate the “who” of your story.
Asking these questions does not make the process any easier, but the rewards for being considerate to others will show itself in a thoughtful well written piece of writing