Every great writer needs an amazing editor. Sometimes that amazing editor is another person. But sometimes – whether because of a tight deadline or because you run a one-woman shop – you need to star in both roles.
This is no small task. So I’ll pause here to slow clap for you.
Now that you are feeling sufficiently appreciated, let’s get into the nitty gritty. First let’s chat about techniques to help set the stage for being a great editor. After that I’ll walk you through the three focused editing re-reads that you should complete for each piece of writing.
Quick question: would you rather ride in a crowded subway with stagnant hot air and your nose way too close to someone else’s armpit OR fly first class in a seat with abundant leg room, your own personal air vent and someone named Lars taking your drink order?
Lars all the way, right?
Trying to reread and edit your single-spaced writing is like riding that sweltering subway. Upgrade to roomy double spacing so your spelling errors can’t hide and your eyes can relax into that soothing white space.
If you just finished writing a piece you might be eager to make final edits. Well, stop right there!
Are you really ready to catch every errant comma and put semicolons in their place? Could you spot a misplaced “llama” or a duplicate “pajama”? If you want your article for Llama Pajama Aficionado to be perfect you’ll need to give your eyes and brain a chance to freshen up.
Taking a mental pause will improve your concentration and productivity. A break of a few hours or even a day before editing is ideal. If time is really tight, take a 10-minute screen-free break. That’s just enough time to water your house plants, make a sandwich or schedule that optometry appointment you’ve been putting off.
Other subtle changes like switching locations, even if it’s moving between rooms in your house, and working while standing instead of sitting can increase your editing attentiveness. And pay attention to environmental factors like temperature, light and sound.
When you edit your own work you’re already really familiar with the writing. This makes it easy to miss things as you read. Reading out loud will make it much harder for your brain to pass by a misspelled word. To get the full effect, read every punctuation mark out loud.
If you feel funny reading out loud to yourself just grab the nearest pet or house plant. (Although avoid ficus plants, which are known to be judgy.)
(If you want to learn more about editing and other writing biz-related thingz, you can click the image below and get access to the free resources library. You’ll get a copywriting checklist, helpful guides on finding your voice and improving your humor writing, and more!)
Whether you are editing for yourself or someone else, make it a habit to use the “track changes” feature of your word processor. So when you go digital with your hard copy edits, make sure the function is turned on. If the clutter of track changes distracts you, select the “Simple Markup” or “No Markup” setting.
And now, with your brilliant double-spaced writing and pen in hand, you are READY. To edit, that is.
My recommendation is to fully read your piece – count it – three times. Each full read will have a different focus. This might seem like overkill but I need you to trust me on this. If we were doing a trust fall I would totally (totally!) catch you right now.
Still need convincing?
Might I point out that “public areas” is only an “l” away from “pubic areas.” And spell check is not helping you out on that one. At all.
Shall we get back to the editing?
The order of the full reads will guide you to consider your piece at increasingly smaller scales from paragraphs to sentences to individual words. This focused and staged editing will save time in the long run and will ensure complete and consistent editing throughout your piece.
Here we go!
During the first full read, focus on each paragraph as a whole and how engaged you feel as you read each one.
Ask yourself: “If I didn’t have to read this would I continue reading it?” If the answer is not, “OMG, yes! I am so excited to keep reading about these llamas and their pajamas!” then consider adding more details or beefing up the narrative.
Also consider how the topic of one paragraph flows to the next. Generally, each paragraph should build from the previous paragraph(s). If a topic you’ve already covered shows up in a later paragraph, it should be presented with new information that moves the piece forward.
During the second full read, consider each sentence and whether the writing is concise. Ask yourself: “Does this say what I mean?”
Don’t be afraid to use the delete key. Like a lot.
In other words, why say, “Caroline is not the kind of person that you would think would want to hear a green hat,” when you can say, “Caroline doesn’t like to wear green hats.” Lengthy sentences and dense writing can be a style choice but make sure the reader isn’t left in the dark.
Also: beware of “thatery” or the superfluous use of the word “that.” It’s a common affliction cured by decisive use of the delete key.
Editing for the nuts and bolts like grammar, spelling and punctuation is often what writers want to work on first. But I’m going to challenge that and say this kind of editing should be the last thing you do.
There is no point in spending time getting every “it’s” and “its” right if you’ll take your red pen to the whole dang section. By first perfecting the flow and concision you’ll be left with the words you want to keep. Then you can make sure they are perfect.
Annnnnnd you did it!
Your article/brochure/novella is perfect and there are no pubic areas to be found. Unless your genre is romance. In which case, you might welcome both public and pubic areas. But with your astute editing you can be sure that whatever areas do occur are intended and appropriately punctuated.
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