How to edit your writing in 7 simple steps

Whenever I'm working with clients, I always, always, always stress that they should schedule time to edit their writing. 

But it's recently occurred to me that a ton of people have no idea how to edit.

Maybe you run out of time. 

Maybe you think your writing sounds pretty good as is.

Maybe you read what you've written and correct spelling errors.

Maybe you rely on Microsoft Word's grammar check.

Maybe "edit" sounds like a scary word and the best way to deal with it is to ignore it completely.

In any event, we're going to clear up that editing mystery right here and now. Because if you don't think you need to edit your writing, you're dead wrong, my friends. Everyone--everyone--can benefit from editing. Even if you're John Green. (Speaking of, feel free to tell me your thoughts on The Fault in our Stars. I mostly loved and slightly hated it.)

Step 1:

Walk away.

Yes, that's correct. Your essay needs room to breathe. And your brain needs some distance to gain perspective. So seriously, walk away for a day, an hour, or even five minutes so that you can come back and look at your writing with fresh eyes.

Step 2:

Reread and look for the big picture.

It is very, very easy to get pulled into fixing minor spelling errors and checking your grammar in this step. I fall into that trap often. But this read-through (and yes, you should read what you've written from start to finish) is your chance to look at the big picture. What point are you trying to get across? Have you done that successfully? Sure, you can make notes for yourself to check errors later, but make sure your writing is communicating your thoughts clearly. And, of course, make sure those thoughts make sense. 

Step 3: 

Use logic. (not the math kind)

Unless you are writing a completely creative essay, you are generally trying to be persuasive in your writing. You may be persuading your professor that there's a ton of religious imagery in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or you may be persuading a potential client to "like" your Facebook business page. In any and every case, make sure that your reasons for persuading your reader are logical ones. For example, I would never promise you that you will become the world's greatest editor by the end of this blog post. That's just not possible. And you probably wouldn't believe me. But I can persuade you that if you read this blog post, you will gain a ton of insight into the editing process.

Step 4:

Check your transitions and flow.

Once you are confident that you've written a lot of great things, you can dive in a little deeper. Look at how your essay is arranged. Do your paragraphs flow from one into the other? Or is there a giant leap between ideas? (Check out The Cut-and-Paste Essay for more ideas on this one.) Once your paragraphs are in the best order, look at the sentences within each paragraph. Does the order make sense? Do you need to match the last sentence of a paragraph more closely with the first sentence of the following paragraph?

Step 5:

Look at each individual sentence.

This probably sounds a little tedious to you, but honestly, this is generally the difference between a B+ and an A. Look at each sentence you've written. Does it say what you want it to say? Is it well-written? Does it make logical sense? (Notice how many times I'm saying "logic" and "make sense"?) Is there an even better way to say it? Are there any words you can eliminate to make the sentence tighter? 

Step 6:

Read your writing out loud.

Yes. OUT. LOUD. I fully admit that this is awkward at times (especially if you have a roommate), but it is the best, best, BEST way to catch errors in your writing. If you stumble over your words, chances are that the sentence and/or its main idea need adjustments. This is honestly the fastest, best way to edit.

Step 7:

Check for grammar and punctuation errors.

Friends: Don't. Rely. On Microsoft Word. I know it's tempting, but just don't do it! Here's why. Microsoft Word's grammar and spelling check is a fantastic FIRST line of defense for your writing. But it is often, often, often wrong. And it often doesn't catch every error. So absolutely use Word to help you out...but then go back and do a final check for errors on your own. 

And there you have it, folks! How to edit your writing in seven simple steps. Now, of course there are lots of different ways to accomplish each step, and we'll definitely review some of those in the weeks to come, but this is your blueprint for getting started. As always, if you have questions, comments, or panic attacks, you can find me on Facebook!


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