“The real writing happens in the edit”
I find myself saying that a lot.
I say it, because I believe it and I preach it to anyone writing their own blogs and other content.
I’m going to use a rather crude analogy here, so brace yourselves…
You’re walking along the street and are getting increasingly desperate for the toilet.
What do you do?
It seems obvious, right?
You find the nearest toilet and relieve yourself.
You don’t l think, “I just need to get this done,” then soil yourself!
This is why it baffles me that someone would just splurge onto a blog (or Social Media) post, and the only edit is a cursory check for spelling mistakes before they hit publish!
All you’re doing is filling the internet with more rubbish. Stinking up the place with your soiled content!
It’s like wetting yourself, giving it a quick dab with a handkerchief and saying, “that’ll do!”
Creating content on your blogs, Social Media and other marketing is not just about ‘getting it done’, it’s about doing it well and adding real value.
It’s Your Reputation
Do you really want to develop a reputation for being slapdash and careless as a business? If your content comes over as this, whether consciously or otherwise, the message you send out to the world is that the business is too.
It’s Your Responsibility
You have a responsibility to the audience you have carefully cultivated, to give them something interesting, inspiring, entertaining, educational… If not, what’s the point?
I’m being a little harsh – and perhaps a little facetious!
In reality, when I’ve worked with a client to improve the quality of their content, their writing is rarely as bad as they believe it is.
Often, all it takes are a few small tweaks to make a big impact in the quality and readability of a piece of writing.
I’ve written previously on this within the context of writing a book, but the same applies for writing anything from a quick update, such as a Tweet, right through to producing a report for a client, writing an email, or creating a blog.
First Editing Pro Tip: Brain Dump
Write your splurge. Get the words out of your head and onto the page/screen. Brain dump. Don’t worry about how it reads just yet. Don’t edit at this stage. Say what you need to say.
The first draft of any writing is supposed to be crap.
At this stage, the point is to get the words out of your brain so you can do something with them.
The problem comes when we rush straight into publishing it.
Second Editing Pro Tip: Brain Switch
Step away from the keyboard!
Once you’ve dumped the ideas from your brain onto the page/screen, walk away for a while. Preferably, take a breather rather than flicking to another window and doing more work.
Have a break. Get outside. Go for a walk. Make a coffee…
The point is to refresh yourself and give your brain time to reset.
Get your brain out of ‘writing-mode’ and into ‘editing mode’.
If it helps (and this helps me), stop, take some slow, steady breaths and imagine a switch on your brain, then flick it from writing to editing mode.
When you edit your writing immediately after drafting it, your brain will read what it thinks it’s written; mistakes can easily be missed. By giving your brain time to reset, you allow yourself the space to look with a fresh perspective.
Third Editing Pro Tip: Clutter Words
When we’re talking, we um and ah, repeat ourselves, adapt the way we speak to reflect the receiver. We naturally include words in our speech that are unnecessary. I think of them as ‘clutter words’.
They’re like the piles of ‘stuff’ in your office that might be useful sometimes. Yes, one day they will get used but that doesn’t mean you have to scatter them all over the place!
For concise, persuasive and interesting writing, we don’t need to include these words. On the one hand, good content needs to be approachable and conversational, but on the other, we need to get our message across effectively.
There are a few words we clutter our speech with that we can do without in our writing. Removing or rethinking these words can make the writing flow better.
I want to stress I’m not saying these words are ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’, just to find them in your writing and consider whether you really need them in that context.
(In fact, I used a couple of them in the previous sentence!)
When you edit a blog or other content, look for these words:
- That (i.e.: ‘he knew that it…’ becomes ‘he knew it…’)
- Is, am, was, were (use powerful verbs and fewer words)
- Started (i.e.: she started to walk…’ becomes ‘she walked…’)
- Trying to (is it happening or not?)
- A little (whether something happens a little or a lot is often inconsequential in context, rely on the verb to do its job)
- In order to (‘to’ is enough)
Try This: If you take the word out, does the sentence sound better?
Forth Editing Pro Tip: Short and Snappy
There is definitely a deficit of attention in today’s fast-paced, instant gratification world!
The average time someone reads a blog is 7 minutes!
If something doesn’t grab us in the 2 – 3 seconds it takes to scroll down our phones, it’s gone.
When we do settle down to read something it needs to ‘feel quick’. Even if it’s a longer piece of content, such as a blog, when it doesn’t feel like a long read we’re more likely to stick with it.
To make reading feel shorter, sentences need to be shorter.
Have plenty of w h i t e s p a c e on the page
- Use bullet points
The point of a bullet point is to make a quick statement! A bullet point shouldn’t be more that one line.
Try This: If a sentence has an ‘and’ or a comma in it, take it out, add a full-stop / period and make it into more than one sentence. Does the writing have more impact?
All of these writing styles and layout techniques make it more likely that your article, update, blog… is read.
A Worked Example
Here’s an example of a sentence that could be improved. The eagle-eyed of you will note it’s from a previous blog. I hasten to add, I didn’t write this, a contributor did so I cut them some slack!
“It is useful to know exactly what you need to focus on in order to make that go to plan, and this is something that you are going to need to think about to get it right.”
If I’d written this sentence:
“Think carefully about your next steps. Know what to focus on before you make a plan.”
Which do you prefer, and can you identify why?
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