By: Marilyn L. Davis
Content is only the Beginning
“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” ~Collette
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a French writer nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 stated that most good writers are merciless in their editing. One reason for this is that first drafts are usually the jumbled thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions writers have about the topic and are not ready for publication.
Even during my draft of a post, I try to remember this excellent quote, “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” ― Dr. Seuss
I recently wrote about revising, which is looking 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. So, if you have revised and restructured your article, it should be ready to publish.
Not quite yet, your revision made the structural changes, now you have to check for mistakes – that is editing and proofreading. It helps if you process revising as surgery and editing as cosmetic. One is drastic, and the other improves or enhances the content.
But Content is King, Isn’t It?
Too many writers depend only on their content. You have written an engaging story, given your perspective on politics or social injustice, commented on the latest trend, or researched and linked to a fascinating historical time or person. While all of those can make a good article, you will lose readers if your editing quality is poor.
Why is that?
Because readers do not have time for poorly edited articles or typos that spell check misses. Both of those look amateurish to readers. Unfortunately, most amateurs don’t rate well, have sterling reviews, or generate revenue from their writing.
With the competition today, you cannot depend on quick wit, knowledge, or your ability to string 1500 words together; readers expect good edits, too. Click To Tweet
Corrected Content Respects the Reader
Simple corrections will improve your article and demonstrate that you respect your readers by doing the best job of editing that you can.
Editing and proofreading are the final changes to your revised drafts. Yes, I wrote plural – drafts. I often write in Word and will use Track Changes for early drafts. It lets me see the original and my revisions without a final decision on the article.
When I read badly edited articles, I feel dismissed, and unimportant; like the writer just wanted anything published that day.
Pace Yourself So You Have Time to Edit
Since there are no deadlines for many online sites, you have time to work on your craft, which means multiple drafts for most of us who take writing seriously. There is a simple formula – write well, edit better. Unsure how to edit? The Guide to Grammar and Writing and Principles of Composition lists over 400 quickly corrected writing mistakes. Another site to consider is Grammarly which also checks style, clarity, and engagement.
But I Use Spell Check, Isn’t That Enough?
You cannot depend on Word’s spell check to find all of the annoying problems when you’re editing. While it is a good beginning, it is limited. For instance, it will not catch homophones, such as:
Spelled correctly, however, they may not be the right word.
Too Familiar with the Right Words
After writing and revising, you have looked at your writing too long. You know how it is supposed to read, and you will inadvertently read it correctly. For instance, he instead of the or she instead of he, and is instead of it or if are all common mistakes. Those are the little, sneaky words that a spell check will not find because they are words; they are just not the right words. Or, as Leah McClellan says, “Donut truss spiel chick, these words will get through just find.”
Potato/ Potahto/Tomato/Tomahto: Editing and Proofreading
Editing and proofreading are similar concepts, regardless of which label you use. The purpose of them is synonymous. It is taking your final draft and looking for the annoying types of mistakes that make your writing look unpolished and unprofessional.
I am frustrated as a reader when there are mistakes that editing and proofreading would resolve. Knowing which errors you typically make means that your editing is specific to the types of problems you have with your writing. I like what author Jarod Kintz says about the different kinds of writers, “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? The average reader or writer fills in the logical blanks and continues reading.
- The better reader judges this as poor writing.
- The better writer fixes it before they publish it.
Find the Typos, Please
If you want to be an above-average writer, pay attention; here is your chance to change a bad habit – not editing. Diligently look for the problem words, grammar, formatting, or other errors you did not correct in your revision. Sometimes a revision will create other issues, for instance, format issues – a too lengthy passage as an example.
Editing can help you see where another sub-heading will correct that problem. Make your article as close to excellent as you can.
Print Out Your Article – With a Few Twists
We engage with paper differently than we do with 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.
Change some elements before you print; it helps you see your writing differently.
Rather than print out your draft in your regular font, size, or color, change some things. Modifying other elements before you edit on paper will help you see the problems. After you have made differences in font, color, or spacing, print your article and move away from the computer, so you are not tempted to edit your writing as you are reading the printed version.
Edit and Publish or Start Over?
If you find that you are getting articles rejected, or readers comment on the quality of your writing, break up your editing routine. Click To Tweet
- Write your article. Take a break.
- Revise your article. Take a break.
- Edit your article. Take a break.
- Read it aloud.
Make these separate tasks. Even better? Do the readings on different days.
All of us who write should think more about Collette’s definition of an author – someone who is not afraid to destroy their article’s components that do not demonstrate good writing abilities, including editing.
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