Great writing doesn’t happen because you have talent. It also doesn’t happen because you read and write every day. It happens because you edit, rewrite, and then edit some more.
Here’s the thing: writing is easy but editing is pure torture. Without it though, your writing is going to be torture for your reader.
So spare your readers the torture and follow these 7 steps to editing nirvana.
After all, “Easy reading is usually damn hard writing.” (Nathanial Hawthorne)
To edit anything, you have to write it first. So write.
Write freely, let your fingers loose over the keyboard. Write your heart out. Don’t think about the quality. Just focus on getting it all written.
Besides, Ernest Hemmingway had it right. The first draft of anything is shit.
2. Sleep on it
So you’ve finished writing your masterpiece. Everything you wanted to say has been written. Now take a deep breath and step away from your writing.
You heard me. Step away from your writing. Like right now!
Editing soon as you finish writing is counterproductive. Your brain needs to rest. You’re still emotionally attached to your writing and you’ll find all kinds of excuses to go easy on your editing process. (How can I cut off this paragraph? It has some of my wittiest lines!)
To edit your writing with justice, you need to achieve a certain level of detachment. The best way to do it is to maintain distance. Once you’re finished, forget about what you’ve written. Take a break. Go out and do something fun or work on something else.
Once a couple of days have passed (or at least a few hours if you’re pressed for time), come back to it and start editing.
I can guarantee that you’ll be seeing your writing with a new perspective.
Now that you’ve put your editing cap on, start by proofreading. Go through the entire document. Check for typos, spelling mistakes, punctuation.
Proofread to make sure you haven’t any words out.
4. Read it out loud
Once you’ve proofread your writing, it’s time to read it out loud. Why? Because you won’t know how good your writing is till you read it out loud.
Reading aloud helps you catch sentences and passages that
- are redundant,
- are difficult to read or
- simply don’t sound right.
Another thing that reading your writing aloud helps identify is paragraphs and sentences that run on and on. An Ideal sentence is about 20 words long. Readability decreases drastically after 25 words so break it up!
5. Run a writing peeve scan
Every writer has a writing peeve – something that you do subconsciously. It can be as simple as
- misspelling a word,
- using a certain word too many times,
- leaving words out,
- jumping between tenses or
- alternating between active and passive voice
Once you’ve proofread and read your writing out loud, go through it once again to look for your writing peeve. This step is crucial in making your writing better.
“Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head.” (William Forrester)
So now you’ve taken care of your pet peeves. Your writing is grammatically correct and reads well. It’s time to get down and dirty. Rewrite or revise any parts that you’re not completely satisfied with.
This doesn’t have anything to do with being grammatically correct or writing well. It has to do with the freelance writer in you and your internal antenna about what will make your client happy with your work.
Ask yourself some tough questions.
Is your writing doing justice to the topic? Can you make it any better and if so, how? Have you covered every angle and aspect?
Have you done your best?
As a freelancer and blogger, asking tough questions of ourselves becomes routine. Don’t dread it. This step means the end is near!
7. Read it out loud again
By now, you probably just want to be done with it already. But it’s your reputation on the line. Read it out loud just one more time to make sure your writing is perfect.
If you absolutely cannot bring yourself to read it out loud, take the easy way out and get someone else to read it for you. You can listen or ask for input.
Congratulations! You’ve made it. You’ve achieved editing nirvana.
Sure you went through an excruciating process but hey, you’ve got some pretty awesome writing to show for it!
It’s your turn to chip in. Is your editing process as excruciating as mine? How long does it take you to edit your work?