I love editing because you can only do it once you’ve finished a first draft. Editing is a sign that you’re over the hardest bit.
Once you’ve got your first draft written, it’s time to knock it into shape and transform it into a slick, polished piece of eyeball-grabbing content that has your audience saying, “Damn. That was good.”
In this article I’ll share the four-step process I use to make sure my copy is up to scratch before shipping it to those I care about most: my readers.
Tip #1: step the eff away from it
Like dealing with a bratty child, sometimes it’s best to remove yourself from the situation so you can gain a more balanced perspective before taking action. That’s exactly what you need to do after your first draft, aka ‘the brat draft.’
(I just made that up, do you like it?)
Step away and allow yourself time to crack on with the 101 other things your business needs you to take care of. Give yourself 48 hours, minimum, before returning to the brat-draft. Honestly though, the longer the better.* I’ve left some stuff alone for weeks and months (like this post) before editing because I needed that room to disconnect with all the energy I initially poured into it. Only then can I see it with an impartial clarity that allows me to implement useful cuts, edits and rewrites.
Can’t wait that long? Then the bare minimum you should give yourself is a lunch-break.
Tip #2: read it aloud
This is round one of edit-fest fun! Pull your copy up on screen, take a deep breath and read it out loud.
Chances are you’ll stumble across chunks of it that you don’t love. Or that you realise don’t make sense. Or your point is fuzzy. That’s fine.
This initial edit is for cutting the really obvious crap our first-draft brain thought was a good idea at the time. Reading aloud also weeds out any stupidly long sentences. No one likes gasping for breath by the end of a sentence. Plus, long sentences end up being really effing complex without actually saying anything, so it’s always better to split it into two or three shorter, more manageable sentences.
Tip #3: print it out and read it again
Round two of edit-fest is where it gets fun. Print your piece of copy and pick up your favourite colour biro.
The reason for printing rather than doing another round of on-screen editing is because our eyes and brain like to trick us into seeing and reading things that may or may not be there. Spotting things you might otherwise miss is much easier on a hard copy.
Also, I tend to read much slower when the physical print out is in front of me. Maybe you’re the same? When stuff’s on screen there’s a temptation to scan-read and go, “Yep, that’s all fine” when really there are still sneaky errors. So print it and use that colour biro to mark up any changes.
Read it in your head, or out loud. It’s up to you.
When you’re done, return to your computer and pop your edits into your document. If it’s especially messy with lots of edits, I like to tick each one off with a highlighter so I know I’ve implemented it on screen.
Tip #4: you know what? It’s worth reading it again
Geez! Turns out editing is more repetitive than on-hold music.
That’s why it’s good to give yourself a two, 12 or 24-hour break between rounds two and three of edit-fest.
The good news is that by now your copy should be at the stage to run it through the barstool test. It’s vital to read this round of editing aloud, because you’re checking for tone and ease of understanding. If you stumble over words, phrases and sentences, chances are it’s not going to be barstool friendly. So change it.
An edit-fest bonus tip
You can take or leave this depending on how good your spelling and grammar is, but way back in primary school I had a teacher who would make us read the stories we’d written, backwards. Start with the very last word and read all the way back to the beginning.
This might sound crazy, but it’s an effective way to pick up any obvious spelling mistakes or typos. Again, because you’re not letting your brain read in a natural way and potentially glossing over things making it easier to identify errors.
It gets easier with practise
Like with most things your first editing experience might feel slow. Trust me when I say you will speed up as you find an editing routine that works for you.
Should you need an extra hand, just give me a shout. I understand that some rewrites are trickier (and carry more weight) than others. Editing is one of my most affordable services and I’m happy to offer extra tips and advice tailored to you.
*The bratty child metaphor ends here. There’s no way I recommend or condone leaving a small, under 18, human alone for that amount of time. Sheesh, I’m not completely dead inside.