In one of my all-time favorite episodes of The Simpsons, Homer toasts:
“TO ALCOHOL: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”
Switch out ‘alcohol’ for ‘editing’ and you’re face to face with a reality that plagues every writer’s existence – whether you’re a full-time inkslinger, or more of a part time hobbyist.
Real talk: when I was younger, I absolutely hated the editing process.
“It’s done!” I’d insist to myself after two read-throughs. “It all poured out of me. I’m calling it.”
Barring any typos or grammar snafus, I was fiercely protective of every run-on, every wasted adjective, and every unnecessary idea that found its way into my first draft. But this was more of a “digging my heels in” act of resistance than an artistic principle or attempt at mastery.
Basically, I didn’t want to edit my stuff because it wasn’t as fun as writing.
And I figured, if I ever became a Super Famous and Important Author, I’d have an editor to do the work for me, right?
Maybe you can relate? Where the first round of content creation can be a wild, crazy-energy process, editing can feel like a bean-pushing minutia task in comparison.
Unfortunately, writing for an audience means your words will (hopefully) be read by someone who isn’t you. So you can’t just kick editing out of the window altogether.
But maybe that’s a good thing.
Years of experience have taught me: editing ourselves is actually a gift. It’s how we grow stronger and more precise in the craft.
Self-editing highlights our good and bad patterns, helps us find our voice, and teaches us how to cut right to the meat of our concepts without watering them down with tangents or clunky rhythms.
But I get it: it can still feel like a struggle, even if you’ve spent years at it already.
So to help you along, here are some key editing focal points to keep in mind next time you’re face to face with a first draft.
These editing tips apply to any content you’d be creating – whether it’s a blog post or article, a sales page, or an email.
And they won’t just help you produce better work, either. They’ll help you sound more like you.
1. Keep your most crucial/eye catching ideas at the top.
In the age of 1 second Snapchat stories and lightning fast download speeds, you have roughly 3 seconds to catch someone’s attention online. For this reason, leaving your best stuff further down the page can cause people to get bored and click away, quickly.
So if you’ve got a joke, a story, an overarching concept, or some imagery you’d like to share, try putting it out in front first.
See how it happens, and how it impacts the flow of your piece.
2. You can use corny phrasing and cliches in round 1… but prepare to cut them.
Confession: if I’m hitting a block, I’ll use cliches/common quips in my first draft just to finish getting all of my ideas on paper. Then on the next round, it’s time to switch it up.
I have a lot of fun with this part actually, because it often just involves giving relatable ideas that little extra creative nudge.
For example, if I’m talking about “the grass being greener on the other side” of something, I can switch it to “The burger always looks better in the commercial”.
OR, if I still dig the grass metaphor, I can tweak it by taking it a step further: “If the grass looks more luscious in your neighbor’s yard… consider that it might be astroturf.”
Have fun with this, and make those all-too-common ideas your own by injecting your unique brand of humor and observations. Go wild!
3. Step away when you need to. Then, come back.
If you’re really struggling with something, the greatest creative tool in your arsenal is taking a break.
Writing is a lot like oil painting. If you spend too much time trying to paint over a “trouble spot” without giving it time to dry, you’ll just end up with a muddy swirl of watered-down colors. And at that point, you can’t even make out your original concept.
When that happens, the only solution is to walk away from your canvas until you can work on it properly again. Do the same for your mind if you’re hitting an editing wall, by stepping away for an hour or so, or even taking a full day or two away from your piece before coming back to it again.
4. Shorten. Everything.
I let the first draft be as long as it needs to, then I take a machete to it all (mwahaha!). While brevity isn’t everything, concision is a symptom of mastery worth striving for.
Having the discipline to remove chunks of content to enhance the delivery of your core ideas is all part of honing your process.
Pro tip: If I feel like I’ll really miss a paragraph or sentence, I’ll paste it at the bottom of the draft, just in case. And you know what? 99% of the time, those edited-out pieces stay gone.
5. Resist the urge to hide behind a gimmick.
Excessive try-hard jokes and metaphors are awkward to read, and can pull your reader out of the moment. (example: I once read someone describe her work style as “a rodent on meth”. Jarring, right?)
Plus, you just don’t need them! If you’re focused on developing your voice and creative concision, your work will speak (and joke) for itself.
So, write about the subjects you’re interested in, in the way you’d normally speak to a good friend, colleague, or an audience. That’s the #1 way to perfect your unique tone, and stand out from the noise.
6. If it sounds rambly to you, it sounds rambly to them.
Hitting a wall with a paragraph? Got a sentence that just doesn’t feel right? Yeah, your people will probably notice.
This is an area where taking time away and coming back really helps. If you’re not sure about something, just label it for yourself so you can return to it with a fresh brain after you take a break, or focus on something else for a while.
Writing in notes like “Not sure if this is too clunky”, or “Fact check” are good ways to a) avoid forgetting about those weird-sounding turns of phrase, b) draw your attention to trouble areas, and c) speed up your process of finding a solution.
While editing might not be glamorous – it’s a skill set worth developing.
Yes, you may never fall in love with it.
Yes, you might rather watch paint dry than read through your article for the 17th time.
But the more you edit yourself with focus and intention, the better you’ll be – and the faster it’ll go.
So take your time. Come up with your own processes. And watch your work get better – your way.
This post originally appeared on DeathToTheStockPhoto.com.