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How To Be A Better Writer: Edit Your Writing

December 10, 2019

In article four of our How To Be A Better Writer series, we explore how to edit your writing. Editing your own words can be tough, so we’ve pulled together our top tips to make life a little easier.

“Editing is the most important part of the writing process,” says Lucy Mowatt, founder of Method Marketing. “I might be biased because I was a magazine editor in a former life, but I believe this is when an article really takes shape.

“Yes, the writing process is very important, but editing ensures that your message is clear. It makes sure your argument flows and allows you to remove mistakes.”

Does your writing flow?

Step one: read your content and make sure it has a logical flow.

Does each paragraph lead to the next? Does it jump between subjects and ideas? Is your message clear?

It’s important that the reader always knows where they are in your content. If they get lost, they might stop reading, close the tab or delete the email.

If you read the content and discover it lacks coherence, you may need to rearrange the paragraphs and rewrite entire sections to get it right.

‘Kill Your Darlings’

This quote, coined by the novelist William Faulkner, is mentioned at length in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.

It refers to the process of deleting anything that doesn’t lend itself to the plot – or your message. He refers to ‘your darlings’ because you may love the content you’ve produced. You might have written the perfect, most eloquent sentence, but if it doesn’t add to your work, you must delete it.

‘Why?’ you may ask. Because indulgences distract your reader and make them switch off, especially if it doesn’t add value. So delete it.

“Every writer’s been there,” Lucy explains. “It’s hard to edit your writing and remove something you believe to be brilliant. But you must if you want to keep your readers engaged.

“My recommendation is to open another text document and paste the offending words in there. I refer to it as my ‘slush pile’. If I want to add it back into the original I can. More often than not though, it stays in the slush pile because the text is better off without it.”

Edit For Consistency

As you edit your writing, check for consistency.

Many publications have a style guide, which informs the language they use and how they use it. It sets out whether they use American spellings, quote marks or speech marks, number use and so on.

If you don’t have a style guide to hand, try using the BBC or Guardian Style Guides.

The Power of ‘You’

“I was always told the most important word in marketing is ‘you’,” says Lucy.

It addresses the reader and draws them in. They become a part of your work.

If you’re writing for marketing purposes, add ‘you’ where you can. Don’t crowbar it in, but if it feels natural, be sure to add it.

Delete clichés and adverbs

Collins English Dictionary defines ‘cliché’ as:

‘An idea or phrase which has been used so much that it is no longer interesting or effective or no longer has much meaning.’

Collins English Dictionary

For example: ‘At the end of the day…’

Meanwhile, an adverb is a word ending in ‘-ly’. These are often used for emphasis. For example: extremely, cowardly etc.

Both clichés and adverbs detract from your writing. They increase your word count without adding to the reading experience. Clichés are skim-read at best and provoke irritation at worst. Adverbs tend to be unnecessary.

Consider removing both for a smoother read.

Walk Away

“This has to be one of my top tips,” says Lucy. “Get away from your writing for as long as you can. Whether it’s an hour, 24 hours, a week or a month, try to put some space between you and your work.”

If you become too close to your writing, you read what you think is there, rather than what’s actually on the page. Walking away means you can come back with fresh eyes.

Read Out Loud

This step comes with a warning: you may feel silly doing it.

It’s worth the discomfort though, we promise. This step comes after getting some space because as you read out loud, you read the words that are actually on the page there. And as you read, you’ll notice when you stumble over words and clunky phrases, so you can edit them out.

Other quick tricks include changing the font size and style so the words look different, or printing your work and editing a printout.

Use Spellcheck

It’s surprising how many people don’t a spellchecker before sending or publishing their work. It’s such a simple step and picks up most errors.

It’s little wonder that spelling is the biggest bugbear reported in The State of Content Survey 2019. It’s a simple process, so there’s no excuse for skipping this step.

Once you’ve completed step four, there’s only one more to go. Stay tuned for more…

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