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How to self-edit so you don’t look dumb

Whether you are a good writer or not doesn’t matter.

Does this surprise you?

The only way to become a master writer is to become awe-inspiringly good at editing. Advertising great David Ogilvy says this:

I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft.

The following tips will make your potentially crappy content great:
  • Plan ahead. Give yourself time to let your first draft rest.
  • Read your text backwards. This is the best way to spot typos.
  • Use a spell checker. You do that already, don’t you? 
  • Proofread on paper. You’re less likely to skim the text.
  • Read your text aloud. You’ll find where you stumble.
  • Simplify. Remember your purpose? Cut all ideas that are irrelevant.
  • Know the common mistakes that will make you look silly. Check your there’s and theirs, your complements and compliments, and your thens and thans.
  • Scrap vapid clichés.  David Meerman Scott calls these gobbledygook: Words or phrases without a real meaning, such as synergistic, best-in-class and too good to be true. Each word should have a meaning that adds to your readers’ understanding.
  • Shorten your first sentence. Short sentences are more likely to draw readers into your content. And don’t forget, the only purpose of the first sentence is to make people read the second sentence.
  • Scrap redundant sentences. If a sentence doesn’t add to your story, it’s unnecessary. Remember, saying the same thing twice in different ways is needless. Don’t repeat the same thing using different words. (See how boring and irritating that is?)
  • Cut excessive words. Read each sentence carefully and delete each word that isn’t necessary. Words you can almost always delete include: ought, perhaps, in my opinion, just, actually, truly, and very.
  • Replace complicated words with simple words. Do you want your content to be difficult to read? Cut long words and replace them with shorter ones.
  • Check your engagement level. Is your content focused on your readers? Count the number of times you’ve used I and me versus you.
  • Now, go back to your headline. Have you delivered on your promise? Will your readers benefit from reading your content?

The harsh reality of becoming a very good writer

You’re smart. You have good ideas. And to spread your ideas you need mind-blowingly good content, because too much information is out there.

I’m not saying you can become a remarkable writer instantly. You need to practice each day. You need to focus. And you need to be prepared for criticism.

But if you persevere, if you focus on becoming enchanting, persuasive, and memorable, you can succeed.

Set your goals. Just do it.

And let us know in the comments — which of these techniques has been the biggest help in your own writing?


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