The big difference between writers that get read a lot and those that don’t? Editing. There really is no two ways about it. Editing and proofreading not only serves to make your writing better, but it also makes you aware of the problems that you’ve got. And that’s the first step towards solving them and becoming a better writer.
That’s something you want. After all, today is known as the golden age of the writer for one big reason – never before has there been a greater demand for writers, through online publications, content marketing and an ever more inter-connected world of knowledge.
It’s only a golden age if you manage to push yourself above the cut. If you can’t get there, well then it’s a dark age like no other. For nobody cares about bad writers. In truth, there are already far too many of them as it is and soon they’ll no doubt go under the chatbot bus.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the actual process of making yourself better at editing and proofreading.
Let it cook
When you write a text you get really close to it. Too close, in many ways. For that reason, an important thing to do is take a break before you head into the editing phase. This will let you once again distance yourself enough to see the forest through the trees.
So how does this help? In a couple of ways:
- You’ll be able to really see what you wrote instead of what you think you wrote. That means you’ll be far more likely to pick up on spelling mistakes, typos, and stupid grammatical constructions.
- You’ll be able to let go of the emotions that get caught up in the writing of a piece. That’s important, as these will twist how you see a text and blind you to the truth. In this way, you’ll see what still doesn’t work (despite you working really hard on it) and allow you to cut it out ruthlessly, for example.
How much distance should you take? Well, if the text is really important, try to give it a week. That’s what I do with my stories and my book chapters. That not possible? Give it at least a day. That will let you get some distance.
The good news is that as you write more and more, you’ll get less and less emotionally involved with your words. That will make it possible to edit a text more quickly after you’ve written it. But before you get there, you have to put in a lot of words and a lot of pages. So get writing!
Turn your text upside down
Don’t have time to take some distance? Then try editing your text upside down. This will make it far more difficult for you to read and will, therefore, slow you right down, thereby making you read what is actually there instead of what you wanted to write.
In this way, you’ll catch the mistakes that you otherwise might have let slip if you would have read the text back the normal way.
Try not to edit as you write
Writing is a creative exercise, which means that in order to excel at it you’ve got to embrace ‘yes’. Editing isn’t about ‘yes’ at all. It’s all about ‘no, don’t like it, I’ve got to change that, and let’s get rid of that bit as well.’ That puts them at cross purposes.
So split them up.
When you’re writing, don’t worry about what you’re putting down. Instead, focus on getting it out on the page first and getting that draft out there. After all, you’re fully aware that not everything is going to survive. You’ll get rid of what doesn’t work and be able to polish what is close, but not quite there.
Trust in that and let your inspiration flow.
Then, when you’re ready to edit you really get into it. That’s all you’re doing – editing that text that’s in front of you and taking those initial seeds of inspiration and turning them into giant oaks of creative greatness.
As an extra bonus, this will make you a far more productive writer as well.
Don’t edit only your own work
Really want to learn how to become a better writer? Then edit other people’s work. This works better than just reading it, as you read the text differently when you’re in the process of cutting, slicing and rearranging structures.
You might come to a bit you really like and not just say ‘that’s really nice’ but wonder why it’s so great and really analyze why it works so well. Then you can try to incorporate those ideas into your own text.
Not sure if a piece of writing by somebody else is really great or not? Then think about how jealous you feel. The more jealous you’re feeling, the better the piece of writing is.
What really helped me over the years is where I edit other people’s work and they edit my own. This give and take lets you figure out what they do differently, what they would do differently and where they think the problems lie.
Of course, if you don’t have anybody to do that with, at least get somebody to occasionally take a look at your work.
Don’t edit in the same file
When you’ve finished your work save it, obviously. Then hit the ‘save as’ button again and rename the file. This is such an easy step, but it’s so vital for it gives you the freedom to cut, move around and change the entire layout of the file you’re working on, without running the risk of losing something truly valuable.
You’ve still got it in that other file, you see.
It does happen. You do sometimes edit a text and end up making it worse than it is. And that can be highly discouraging. It will be far less so, however, if you still have that original file lying around.
What’s more, if you do this often enough then you can really see how much better texts become as a result of editing them, which will drive home the power of the editing cycle.
Use the tools that are out there
Grammarly is something that you can install straight onto your computer and it will point out mistakes right as you write, by underlining them with a big red line. In this way, you’ll immediately pick up on any mistakes you’ve made. What makes it so great? Well, it will load straight into your internet window, so that even your comments and your emails will get checked. What’s more, it picks up on more mistakes than Windows’ Word does, which is quite something.
The Hemingway App is, in its basic form, a little harder to use but that doesn’t mean it’s any less useful. You just go to the page, dump your text into the window, and it will analyze the text for you, point out which sentences are hard to read and where you can use easier language.
As a bonus, when you’ve got Grammarly installed, you can cut and paste texts out of your Word documents, straight into the Hemingway app and both will get to work on it. In this way, you’ll be able to write your text without the programs getting in the way and when you’re ready to edit the text, both pieces of software are there at the same time to offer you their guidance. That’s not just two birds with one stone, that’s a whole flock!
You have to edit. It’s what separates the goods from the greats. And why do something if you’re not going to try to be the best you can be? Another point I haven’t really mentioned in this text but which is equally important is that editing is a skill just like writing is. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
And as it also improves your writing, that just makes it a killer combination. You’re just becoming a better writer all around! Remember, when you put something out there in your own name, it stays out there in your name. So make it the best that it can be.
That way, you’ll be able to not just make the cut and join the golden age of the writing world but to stick head and shoulders out above it. Remember the last golden age we had, back in the Renaissance? That might have been a golden age for everybody, but there are only so many names that you can easily recall.
So edit your work and become the next Leonardo or Machiavelli. Or don’t and be forgotten like everybody else.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.