Many people think that in order to be a good writer, you have to have a natural affinity for it. That opinion can really alienate anyone who actively wants to get better at writing and discourage them from even trying. It’s my solemn belief that anyone can be a good writer, no matter what medium. And the first step to being a writer is learning how to be a great editor.
Editing is the key that unlocks good writing. Knowing how to edit is a testament to your ability to look at copy objectively in order to make it the best it can be. Anyone can put words together, but editors know how to elevate phrases and make them powerful.
Great editing takes time, patience, and perseverance to even get a basic understanding. I want to help guide you over the initial hurdles of your new editing journey with a few things that I’ve learned in my career that have made me a better editor which, in turn, made me a much better writer.
Learn How to Edit Your Own Writing
This fundamental skill is the hardest to master, but it’s the most invaluable one to have in your arsenal. Self-editing makes you take a step back and look at your words objectively and that’s difficult to do for many people. After all, that’s why people pay others to edit their work for them. But, by reading through your own work, you’ll have so much more insight into your writing. You’ll find the things you like about your writing style, your flaws, and your most common mistakes. Understanding these aspects of your writing will inevitably help you get better.
As you’re beginning the self-editing process, my advice would be to stick with the 30-30 rule. Once you’ve got your first draft, cut 30% of your copy. Then, go back through and cut 30% of the remainder. Yes, it’s as hard as, or maybe even harder than, it sounds.
The 30-30 rule forces you to look at your copy in a different way and tighten it up. You’re going to write sentences that you will absolutely love. In my opinion, those should be the first to go because they are most likely only there for style. Because you love them, however, you’ll try to incorporate them into your copy, even if they start detracting from your argument. Let them, and your ego, go.
The key is to know what you want to say and make it as efficient and accessible as possible. Look for any place your copy can be simplified. If you have a long sentence, consider splitting it into two. Or if you included a long, fancy word, replace it with a simple word that a wide range of audiences can understand. Above all else, don’t ever waste your readers’ time.
Use Unconventional Editing Tools to Find Your Mistakes
As you’re going through the editing process, it’s always a good idea to have extra help. I highly recommend using a dictation tool and a text-to-speech tool, regardless of whether you let other people read your writing. My favorite ones to use are Google Translate, the dictation tool that is already installed on most Mac models, and Grammarly for checking grammar and spelling mistakes.
These tools help you find any mistakes you didn’t catch, and they allow you to hear how your piece flows. Often when people are writing, they know what they want to say, but they aren’t always effective in how they execute the final product. Even after rounds of self-edits, writers can miss critical mistakes.
Editing tools are objective and unforgiving, and you’ll quickly find that weird sentences or misplaced punctuation stick out like sore thumbs. It will be weird at first, but stick with it and you’ll find that your writing and editing skills will get better with each piece.
Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More
My last piece of advice is to continue practicing your editing skills and to not get discouraged. Even though I write professionally, I am constantly improving and developing my style. And if you are committed to getting better, you need to do the same thing.
Improving at anything takes a lot of hard work, but if it’s worth it to you, keep at it. Remember, even the most accomplished writers had to start somewhere, and they still never get it right on the first draft. You’re going to have to put in the work to get better, but if you do, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you see improvement in your writing.
Eventually, you’ll be able to quickly catch grammatical or word-choice mistakes that will make you pause and grimace. You’ll experience that incredible a-ha feeling that comes with progress. Lean into it and be proud. Then, file it away and soldier on.