The Art of Self-Editing
This month’s writing tip was inspired by the following random thought from one of my favorite writers, editors, and caller-outer of all B.S., Josh Bernoff:
“If your boss, your editor, or somebody like me told you to that you have to cut 25% of what you just wrote, you would. And it would be better. So why do you need somebody to tell you?”
However, even though I preach the self-editing process to the writers I work with, it can still be excruciatingly difficult for me to be constructively critical of my own writing. I do hope my boss (who happens to be my editor, as well) has seen improvement in this area over the years, but I know I can always do better.
So, how does one master the art of self-editing? Here are three tips to help you get better at scrutinizing your own work.
1. Evaluate the main headline and sub-headers. Remember the famous line from Jerry Maguire, “You had me at ‘hello’”? That’s exactly the response you want your audience to have when they read your headline and subsequent section headers. Do your headlines grab yourattention and make youwant to keep reading? If not, take the time to make them into intriguing statements or questions that will reel in your readers.
2. Cut and remove the unnecessary parts. The idea is as nauseating to me as it is to you. However, once you get the hang of deleting superfluous words, overly complex sentences, and rambling paragraphs, it can feel oddly liberating and satisfying. Start slowly by identifying low-hanging fruit—slash unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, chop sentences that are more than three lines long, and remove longwinded analogies and overused clichés.
3. Read, and re-read, and read again. You think you’ve finished your article and your 100% that it’s ready for editing. However, if you haven’t done multiple read-throughs, I guarantee you that your editor does not want to see it. Even if you’ve run a grammar and spelling checker, there are likely to be numerous mistakes still lurking in your content, especially if you’ve gone back and rewritten any part of it. By reading through your content several times and making sure it’s “clean,” you will be an editor’s dream!
Are you doubting your ability to stick to the best practices of self-editing? I keep this anonymous, and very wise, quote above my desk: Write without fear. Edit without mercy.” It is an excellent reminder of my responsibility to my editor to slice and dice my content and to try to make her job much easier.
Have any self-editing tips? Please share your thoughts with @karen.
Author's Note: This article was originally written in my role as Chief Content Officer for Lisa Baker Associates.