How you edit defines you as a pro or a hobbyist
Writing a blog post (or a column or a book) is all about communicating. What separates the good from the great communicators is the ability AND willingness to rework their writing over and over again until it glistens like a polished gem. The great learn to love the process of revision, to see it as adding a final sheen to their work. Professional writers and bloggers don’t send in their first drafts to their editors or publish them on their blogs without looking it over first.
Re-writing … it’s the key.
Actually, it’s the most crucial step in the writing process. And it can be a frustrating exercise when you’re in “writer mode” and believe you’ve written a brilliant piece. But realize this: re-writing your article or blog post will make it better.
As some famous person said (and as many a writer will attest) “There is no great writing – only great rewriting.
5 editing and re-writing techniques
Editing is a process. And once you understand and embrace the process, it gets easier and your writing gets stronger. So many people ask me how I rewrite and the answer is simple: slowly. Addressing the areas of structure, flow, language, detail, grammar and spelling, impact and length takes time.
There are as many approaches to rewriting as there are writers. The following is my rewriting process. Experiment and see what works for you.
Step 1 – Clear away obvious clutter
This first read through allows me to correct clunky phrasing and obvious spelling and grammar errors. I also may catch places where I haven’t fleshed out the topic enough or where the structure is weak (that is, I’ve omitted an important piece of the story or what I’ve written doesn’t make sense).
Read through your work carefully and strike out what doesn’t belong. Try the 10% trick. If you’ve written 1,000 words, cut out at least 100 words in the second draft by cutting adjectives and adverbs and tightening sentence structure. Willam Zinsser, in his book “On Writing Well,” said, “…the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”
Step 2 – Time for the red pen
I print the next draft out. I read this with red pen in hand, playing with the structure, seeing what would happen if I moved this sentence here and that one there. Often, merely rearranging words within a sentence will shorten that sentence and make it more powerful.
These are some of the questions I ask myself:
- Did I use cliches?
- Are my descriptions specific and vivid enough?
- Is my writing rife with passive voice?
- Am I showing or telling?
- Where have I used five words to say the same thing I could say in two?
- Is every sentence necessary?
Step 3 – Focus on the flow
Words are a writer’s paradox. We need them as tools, but when used to excess they weaken our product. I treat this rewrite as an opportunity to ensure the words I’ve chosen are the right words, to direct my readers, slow them down or speed them depending on the message.
Are you being redundant?
If you used something like “absolutely complete,” “ask the question,” “for a span of one month,” or “factual information,” then you’re repeating yourself. It’s either complete or not – you don’t need the “absolutely” to make your point.
- Have I repeated words so they’re distracting?
- Do the paragraph transitions make sense?
- Does the introduction truly introduce the piece, or am I “warming up,” and could actually cut the whole first graf?
- Does the conclusion follow easily from the rest of the piece?
Step 4 – Last pass before publishing
This is my last chance to ask myself the tough questions.
- Am I engaging my readers?
- Am I whining?
- Am I telling the truth?
- Am I going deep enough?
- Does the conclusion wrap up the package and give the punch I want it to?
Step 5 – Is this the best I can do?
The mother of all rewriting questions… Is this the best I can possibly make it? If so, then I’m done. If not, then I look at where I can do better. If I’m honest with myself, I KNOW where I’m slacking and where the train is coming off the rails.
Some people find having a “gentle reader” to be a boon. If you have someone in your life who can be supportive yet helpful, intelligent yet gentle, make use of them. It can only make your writing stronger.