Writing and Editing: Part 1 (aka the Big Picture)

Once you’ve finished a piece of writing — an important e-mail, ad, white paper or the next Great American novel — you need to revise your work to make it shine. All writers edit, no matter how brilliant and talented. Even Hemingway, who famously said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”

When editing and polishing writing, I break the process down into two parts: 1.) The Big Picture and 2.) One letter at a time.

I like to look at the writing’s “big picture” to make sure everything makes sense, follows some sort of logical progression and has a consistent style.

Every writer has a different way of doing this for each type of writing project — for example, some like to read a hard copy, others like to edit straight on the screen. No matter your style or the project, here are a few of my (not so secret) tricks:

Take a break
from the writing. An hour is enough time for smaller projects, but for longer projects give yourself at least a day. This break gives you fresh eyes to look at the writing. In the meantime, get to work on other projects!

Revisit your goal.
Make sure the writing accomplishes what you set out for it to do. This is a “duh” point, but still good to keep in mind when revising something that you’ve been working on for several weeks or has a complex objective.

Read it out loud and see if it flows well. Do the transitions make sense? Are any sentences structured awkwardly? You (like me) may feel like a total dork reading out loud to yourself, but this makes it much easier to pinpoint what needs improving.

Pare down. We aren’t all going to write like Hemingway, but we can avoid repetition and redundancies. If a sentence, paragraph or section aren’t doing anything to help the writing achieve the goals, get rid of it.

Rearrange sentences and sections to see if they flow better. Once you are happy with this, add information that’s missing or needs more detail.

Activate your verbs to develop engaging, motivating and credible writing. Passive verbs have their place, but use them sparingly.

Fresh perspective is important. Have a friend, colleague, editor or proofreader look over your writing.

Editing the big picture challenges every writer and copywriter, so take your time. Enjoy the process as your writing evolves and improves, then it’s onto the details!


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