By: Marilyn L. Davis
Edit, Revise, and Proofread: What Good Writers Do
Two notable writers reinforce my belief that good writing is the editing, revising, and proofreading after the drafts.
“Learn to enjoy this tidying process. I don’t like to write; I like to have written. But I love to rewrite. I especially like to cut: to press the DELETE key and see an unnecessary word or phrase or sentence vanish into the electricity. I like to replace a humdrum word with one that has more precision or color. I like to strengthen the transition between one sentence and another. I like to rephrase a drab sentence to give it a more pleasing rhythm or a more graceful musical line. With every small refinement, I feel that I’m coming nearer to where I would like to arrive, and when I finally get there, I know it was the rewriting, not the writing, that won the game. – William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
Both William Zinsser and Larry Enright understand the necessity of editing. One reason is that first drafts lean towards all the jumbled thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions writers have about the topic and are not ready for publication. Or the writer has an engaging story, gives us their perspective on politics or social injustice, comments on the latest trend, or research and links to an exciting historical time or person with way too many words.
While all of those can make a good post or book, without proper editing, readers will leave. Why is that? Because readers don’t have time for amateurish writing and editing.
Edit It Before Someone Rejects It
If you are getting guest posts rejected, maybe you haven’t spent enough time revising, editing, and proofreading. With the competition today, you cannot depend on quick wit, knowledge, or ability to string 1000 words together to get you by as there is content, and then there is corrected content.
As an editor, it’s frustrating to get submissions that have numerous typos, incorrect grammar, and misspelled words. If, and this is a big if, the content is appealing or interesting, or the writer’s native language is not English, I’ll often ask them to revise, or I’ll make the corrections for language issues. But not every editor at a website looks for the bones – they reject a post that needs work.
Corrected Content Respects the Reader
When I read poorly edited posts, I feel dismissed and unimportant, like the writer just wanted anything published that day without considering the craft of writing. As a reader, I’m frustrated when there are mistakes that revising, editing, and proofreading will catch.
Each of us has predictable mistakes or errors and knowing which types we typically make means that our editing is specific to those mistakes and types of problems.
Editing, revising, and proofreading all have one purpose in mind – taking your drafts and looking for the annoying mistakes that make your writing look unpolished and unprofessional.
Jarod Kintz’s humorous take on types of writers reinforces the point: “There Are Two Typos Of People In This World: Those Who Can Edit And Those Who Can’t.”
How many of you read the word “typo” as “type” because that would make sense? Our brains are wired to make these subtle corrections, and we move on. Without scrutinizing our writing, we’ve moved on without correcting the misused word. An average writer misses it or isn’t concerned with minor typos.
Then there’s the better reader and writer, and they do things differently:
- Better readers judge this as poor writing.
- The best writers fix the problems through editing, revising, and proofreading – before they publish their posts.
What Do Revisions Do?
Revisions look at the various components of the article’s structure. Revising finds the bad passages, redundant sentences, off-topic tangents, conflicting tone, style, and syntax issues.
Therefore, if you have revised and restructured your article, it should be ready to publish. No, not quite yet; your revision made the structural changes; now you have to check for mistakes – that is one type of editing that can set your post apart from others. Corrected content demonstrates that you respect your readers by doing the best editing that you can.
Editing is the final change to your revised drafts. Yes, I wrote plural – drafts. Many sites do not have deadlines, so you have time to work on your craft, which means multiple drafts for most of us.
Edit Out Your Normal Mistakes
The Guide to Grammar and Writing and Principles of Composition lists over 400 quickly corrected writing mistakes. If you’re uncertain, run your drafts through Grammarly or other grammar checkers – and then learn from your mistakes.
For some reason, I liked the semi-colon but was misusing it. Since I knew this was a common mistake for me, I made an effort to study the correct way to use one. Now, I’m careful to use one correctly and less frustrated with my writing.
But after I’ve looked for the misplaced semi-colon, I might run a spell check. While it is a good beginning, it doesn’t find all of the mistakes, like homophones, such as:
The spelling of those words is correct; however, they may not be the right word for your sentence. After writing and revising, you have looked at your writing too long. You know how it is supposed to read, and you will read it correctly. For instance, he instead of the or she instead of he, or is instead of it or if.
Those are the tricky little words that spell check will not find because they are words. While we will all understand Leah McClellan’s quote, look at how it emphasizes the point:”… donut truss spiel chick, these words will get through just find.”
Find the typos; diligently look for the problem words, grammar, formatting, or other errors you did not correct in your revision. Make your article as close to excellent as you can. If you want to be an above-average writer, pay attention; here is your chance to change a bad habit – not thoroughly editing.
Print Out Your Words – With a Few Twists
We engage with paper differently from a screen. Most studies conclude that we experience heightened attention when we hold the paper in our hands, actively engaging other senses into the reading experience; therefore, it makes sense to edit in print.
Many writers print out their final drafts to finish their editing. However, I have a few twists on this editing tip. Change up a few things rather than print out your draft as written. Look how differently the words show in these examples:
After making the differences in font, color, or spacing, print your article and move away from the computer so you aren’t tempted to correct the post as you edit. Please take this opportunity to read it out loud after the corrections.
- How is the flow?
- Is this post helpful?
- Did you write it to the best of your ability?
- Are you satisfied with your writing?
- Have you respected the reader?
Pared Down, Proofread, and Ready to Publish
“To me, the single biggest mark of the amateur writer is a sense of hurry.
Hurry to finish a manuscript, hurry to edit it, hurry to publish it. It’s definitely possible to write a book in a month, leave it unedited, and watch it go off into the world and be declared a masterpiece. It happens every fifty years or so.
For the rest of us, the single greatest ally we have is time. There’s no page of prose in existence that its author can’t improve after it’s been in a drawer for a week. The same is true on the macro level – every time I finish a story or a book, I try to put it away and forget it for as long as I can. When I return, its problems are often so obvious and easy to fix that I’m amazed I ever struggled with them.” – Charles Finch, author of nine Charles Lenox novels
Thinking like Finch means we’re not afraid to destroy the components that do not demonstrate good writing practices, and we are more apt to see them with fresh eyes a few days after writing the first draft.
So, you’ve let it sit, and now you’ve done more editing or revising. What’s your next step?
Publish it, send it off to a publisher, or to Two Drops of Ink as a guest submission. The readers and I will appreciate your attention to detail.
Bio: Marilyn L. Davis
Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available on Amazon, at Barnes and Noble, Indie Books, and Books A Million.
For editing services, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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