how to edit your writing in 7 slightly fancier steps

Last week we took a look at editing basics: 7 simple steps to editing your writing. (If you haven't read that yet, take a peek.)


I know that lots of you already know the basics. You're not satisfied with an A on your work--you want an A+. I feel you, friends. I feel you.


Why settle, right? 


Let's assume that you've written a first draft and you've done all of the simple steps of editing. Now the good stuff begins. Unlike the 7 simple steps, these steps can be done in almost any order. You can pick and choose. Just try them out and see what feels best to you.


Experiment with your opening. 

When we tell a story at a party, we tell it in a very linear fashion, meaning that we generally start at the beginning and list details in chronological order. Even though this is a really logical method, it's not always the most fascinating. Sometimes our stories get way more oomph when we start at a spot other than the beginning. Take a look at the sequence of events and consider whether it might be more exciting to start with the end of your story, or somewhere in the middle. Click for more details...


Vary your sentence structure.

All this means is that your sentences shouldn't all look the same. If you realize that you have two sentences in a row that look alike, try flipping the second sentence around or rearranging it to start with a phrase. Combine sentences. Break sentences up. Switch things around so that each sentence is set up in a slightly different way.

So instead of this: I went to the mall to buy a new dress for my sister's baby shower. I went into Banana Republic and tried on five dresses. I bought a dress.

Try this: I went to the mall to buy a new dress for my sister's baby shower. At Banana Republic, I tried on five dresses, and I bought one of them.


Be specific.

Details are the spice of your story. They make people interested enough to read more. So don't just write that you broke your arm--write about breaking your arm in the middle of a third-grade kickball game that time your non-athletic best friend accidentally kicked the ball hard enough to knock you over. I would read that story.


Use sensory details.

Sensory details are descriptions of things that you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. When you incorporate sensory details into your writing, you bring the reader into your world. You give your writing a tangible burst of energy that excites readers. Click for more details...


Banish the passive voice. 

That is a fancy way to suggest that you eliminate "is" and "was" and "are" and "were" from your writing as much as possible. Doing so brings a more active, vital feel to your writing. And who doesn't want to make writing feel vital and important? Click for more details...


Be concise.

I know how hard it is to get words on the page. And it's even harder to delete those words we worked so, so hard to write. But you should take a critical look at each paragraph and delete any sentence that doesn't move your story or argument forward. It's just filler--that stuff in a crabcake that is not crab. It's not necessary, and it gets in the way of appreciating the good stuff (that delicious crab!). Once you've determined that all of your sentences are necessary, take a look within each sentence to see if you can eliminate unnecessary words. More crab, less filler! Click for more details...


Read your essay out loud.

This was my best suggestion for basic editing, and it's my best suggestion for fancy editing. Notice a pattern? Nothing else is this easy or works so well. Read your writing out loud, slowly and carefully, as if you are presenting it to a small group. If you get tripped up, chances are that you should rework that sentence. Seriously. You may feel a little strange doing it, but it's the absolute easiest way to edit!


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