How to Improve your Editing

A drawing of some scissors

Chopping bits out of your carefully written copy is one of the toughest stages of the writing process. However, there are a few steps that can help to take out some of the pain.

Give it a rest

In his book On Writing, Stephen King recommends that you lock your carefully created masterpiece in a drawer for a number of weeks before you start the editing process. This helps you to come back to it with a fresh eye.

Most of us won’t have the time to leave it for that long, but I find that even having a break for a few hours can help. Make yourself a cup of tea, go on a lunch break or even jump onto another project for a bit before you start to work.

Read it aloud

Yes, really. If you read your work out loud then you’ll immediately pick up on those grammatical stumbling blocks.

Keep an eye (and an ear) out for:

  • Overly long sentences (these are easy to pick up on as you’ll start to run out of breath when you come to read them)
  • Natural breaks in the flow. Are they reflected in the grammar used?
  • Clumsy or confusing sentence structures
  • Repeated words/phrases

A second pair of eyes

If you have the time, get somebody else to glance over your work. Make sure that they’re a person you trust to be honest with you, but who won’t tear your copy to shreds either.

Ask them to let you know if they feel any information is missing or if there are any elements that they stumble over.

Practice makes perfect

If you find it hard to chop your work down to meet word counts, then a bit of practice and some emotional distance can work wonders.

Take an article from your favourite writer or a review of a film you like, make a note of the word count and then try to half it. Note down the elements that are easiest to remove whilst keeping the spirit of the original copy. If you feel like a real challenge, then try to half it again.

Next, go to one of your own pieces of work and do the same exercise. Are there any phrases you use too often? Do you have a habit of using too many adjectives?

A good edit should not only iron out any errors, but improve the flow and pace of your copy. It’s a handy skill to learn and – once you master it – may even speed up the writing process.

Like my blog? You can follow me on Twitter at @jrcopywriting

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