How do I keep my editing skills sharp?

editorial_booksNo matter how long you’ve been working as an editorial freelancer, you need to work at keeping your skills sharp and up to date. Here are some ways to accomplish that.


Read books on how to write as well as how to edit. Here are some suggestions:


  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bird by Bird Anne Lamott
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain


  • Writing Successful Self-Help & How-to Books by Jean Marie Stine
  • How To Get Your Book Published by Robert W. Bly
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Carolyn Forche


  • Story by Robert McKee
  • Getting into Character by Brandilyn Collins
  • Creating Fiction, edited by Julie Checkoway
  • Creating Characters by Dwight Swain
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
  • The Art & Craft of Novel Writing by Oakley Hall
  • Practical Tips for Writing Popular Fiction by Robyn Carr
  • Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman


  • Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • Copyediting: A Practical Guide by Karen Judd
  • The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn
  • and just for fun, Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss (It contains British punctuation rules, which are different from US rules. But it’s hilarious fun for those of us who enjoy spotting mistakes!)


Make sure you have the latest editions of the appropriate reference books. For example:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (for books)
  • The Associated Press Stylebook (for articles)
  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (for books)
  • Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition (for articles)
  • The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style (for Christian books)
  • Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling (sort of a Cliffs Notes for all of the above resources available at

Get into the habit of looking up any word you are not 100 percent sure of the spelling for. (And read the definition and part of speech to make sure you’re using the right spelling for that usage.) Look up punctuation rules and style guidelines. Don’t rely on what you think you know, or what you remember from high school or a writing course you took, or even on the collaborative opinions of other writers or English teachers. The rules for books are different from the rules for term papers or articles.

Take Classes and Workshops

Attend writers’ conferences so you can polish your writing skills and meet other people in the business.

Enroll in local adult-education courses, or take correspondence or online classes in writing for publication, creative writing, journalism, editing, whatever area you may need to brush up on or wish to expand into.

The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network, offers a variety of online courses specifically for editorial freelancers, including:

  • Polishing the PUGS: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, & Spelling
  • Web Site Writing and Editing
  • Typing without Pain
  • Copyright and Permissions
  • Developing Your Editing Specialty
  • Marketing Your Services
  • Ghostwriting and Collaborating

For details, visit and click on the “Online Courses” link.  

See What It’s Like

Hire a professional editor to critique some of your own writing. Not only will this help you improve your skills, but you’ll get a good feel for how your clients may respond when they get edits from you. You may even want to send your work to two or three editors to pick up on different editing styles.

To get a referral to one or more editors you can send your work to, click here to fill out an Editor Search form.