Too often, writing is published without going through an editing process first. No piece of writing should be sent out into the world without editing. Even a tweet. It will never be the best it can be on the first draft. You could be one of the best writers in the world, but the first draft still wouldn’t live up to expectations. Do you think Stephen King just throws his books out there without editing?
Mark Twain was spot on when he said: “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” All good writing comes from the edits. Even this blog went through a rough draft, a neater draft, and a few more stages before being sent to an editor for a final edit before anyone could even think about posting it.
But how do you go about editing? Being a great editor is hard, but if you can follow these stages and become even an “okay” editor, your writing will be so much better for it. So here are four important stages of editing every piece of writing should go through.
Take a step back
One of the easiest ways to jumpstart your editing process is to just leave it. Not “leave it” as in abandon it and hope it magically transforms into the best thing you’ve ever written, but let it (and you) rest. Maybe go for a walk, have something to eat, watch TV, or even come back to it after the weekend. The longer the better.
When you come back, any emotions, negative or positive, will have subsided and you can be more objective. The writing process is usually emotional in some way, but the readers aren’t in the same boat as you. This is a fresh piece of content for them; they have no context. They don’t know how difficult that piece was to write. That frustration can come through accidentally, and that’s why you need this reset. To make the piece the best it can be for the readers.
Edit with a pickaxe
Before you get into the nitty-gritty where you ask yourself if there’s a better word, statistic, or analogy you can choose, you need to observe your work as a whole. Picture your piece of writing as a big block of marble. Before Michelangelo carved David’s eyebrows, he would have carved a figure from the block. You need to do the same. You need to hack away huge pieces for it to even remotely resemble a person. Or in your case, a good piece of writing. The finer details come later.
Read each paragraph. Does it belong? Or did you force it in? Is everything in the right order or would it read better if you swapped those paragraphs around? Check each sentence – they should all back up your main point or idea. If not, delete it. Sentences should build on each other and flow nicely, not be awkwardly jammed together.
Edit with a chisel
Now you have the outline of a good piece of writing, you can look into each sentence properly. This stage of editing is about making your writing as engaging as possible. Cut out any unnecessary fat; leave only the juicy, interesting bits. There’s no need for “in this blog” or “I think that”. It’s obvious and brings the pace of your writing down. We have a habit of adding words that don’t need to be there. For example, do you really need “far” in front of “too much”? Probably not.
This stage of editing is also the time to look at the verbs you’ve used. Are there any stronger, more emotive choices you can use? You also want to finesse the flow, especially if you moved paragraphs around in the last stage. You want them to connect, creating a consistent narrative.
Start and finish strong
If we have as short an attention span as people say, we need our opening to grab the reader’s attention. The opening paragraph needs to draw people in and make them actually want to read the rest of your piece. This is also an important principle to apply to your headline. 80% of people will read the headline, but only 20% will read the rest.
After reading your amazing piece, you don’t want to leave your readers on a sour note. The closer should be strong too. You want people to finish your piece wishing it hadn’t ended. If it’s a blog, the reader might then be tempted to look for more great blogs you’ve written. It’s a win-win. They’ve had the pleasure of reading some great content and you get them staying on your site for longer.
Writing content can be difficult. Writing great content is even harder. But with practice and by applying these lessons, your writing can go from average to great. Still, many of us don’t have the time to create great content to post on a regular basis. That’s where we can help.
Coster Content can take the stress of writing and editing content off your hands, helping you to make your business the best it can be. If you’d like to find out more, get in touch on 0161 413 8418.