Just finished editing a sales letter for a client. It made me think a lot about the importance of editing. I can hardly imagine a world without careful re-reading and adjustment of words in print. Imagine if books were edited with the same carelessness of an email fired off in hasty anger, or typeset without spellcheck being used, as was once necessary. I cringe at the faux pas that may slip through with my daily Daisy writing here, and thank my lucky stars once more for having a super writer’s critique group.
But what can you do when you have no critique group or editor to back up your writing efforts? Here are some tips I’ve garnered along the way:
- Keep your purpose in mind. In commercial writing especially, keeping the creative efforts of bright entrepreneurs in check is very difficult. Scope creep is common both for advertising and for creative writing. Therefore, try to have a scratch pad next to you with a short outline of objectives scribbled on it: the purpose of this letter/ad/chapter is…the length I want to keep to (as a writer, you become sensitive to page “real estate”)… the call to action, or in creative writing, the hook to keep readers turning the page. That’s it.
- Read quickly through the piece to get an overall feel for it. Is the voice coming across? By voice I mean tone or attitude. These elements are created by the specific words you choose, the length of your sentences, and the use or avoidance of contractions or casual verses formal sentence structure.
- Is the lead buried? Often, the key phrase or sentence is lost three or four paragraphs down. The first paragraphs are called writer’s warm up, and should be deleted or pushed down below your “lead” sentence or thought.
- Don’t trust your own vocabulary. Yes, you have daily use of hundreds of words. You’re a writer after all. But when you use a word that at all stops you, or calls out to you in some way that says, “is this the precise thing I want to say?” STOP. Look the word up in the dictionary. Webster’s is a great on-line tool that I use regularly. If you don’t want to go to that trouble, at least use your word processor to look up synonyms as you work, to be sure you’re as precise as possible.
- Lastly, READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD! Okay, so I’m yelling here. Sorry, but I cannot believe how many people send out things that could be fixed easily by a quick oral presentation. You don’t have to talk loudly. Even whispering works. You just need to hear the words you use so you’ll be able to put yourself in your reader’s perspective. You’ll catch sentences that run on and on…and on. You’ll hear the rhythm of your words and stumble when your reader will.
There are many good sources for learning to edit your work. One I read in the last year was Revising Fiction, by Kirt Hickman. The second section goes into detail on great things to look for that encumbers your writing. Excellent read. I also saw an excerpt from James V. Smith Jr.’s book The Writer’s Little Helper mentioned in the September 2012 edition of Writer’s Digest. I hope to pick up that book soon. It has wonderful tips in a light voice, like, “Don’t use parentheses. (Do as I say, not as I do.)”
Do you have a favorite editing tip? I can always use another tool to improve my writing.
great, good, successful writing day.