If you’re anything like me, you love words. You love prose, you love language, you love how a perfectly-constructed sentence can say so much more than just letters put in order.
If you’re unlike me, however, you love to use lots of words, and write mountains of prose.
I know it’s hard not to get carried away, telling everyone everything you’ve ever wanted to say about a subject. Especially online, when blogs are creative outlets, and there are no restraints or word counts. But having been on the reading end of waffly posts (particularly when I haven’t got too much time to spare), I’ve realised the old adage “less is more” really does ring true.
Does that mean you can’t write long-form posts because they bore readers? No! It means write them well. Make each of those 2000+ words count.
But how do you self-edit when you feel as though every word is important? I’m so glad you asked! Let’s find out:
Tips for Self-Editing
Follow Stephen King’s Number-One Tip
I wrote about his method of editing here, but it’s basically getting some space between you and your work. Stephen King puts his work (literally) in a drawer, and comes back a couple of months later to edit and tweak. You can come back sooner than that, but fresh eyes and a clear head make a world of difference when it comes to editing. Still unconvinced? You won’t be after you read the post!
You really can’t edit while you write, go straight from writing to editing, or edit the same day. Give it some time.
Can you say it in fewer words?
Twitter is great training for this (thanks to its 140-character limit), as was being a journalist – cutting unnecessary words makes for cleaner copy, there’s just no way around it. I’ll bet there are plenty of sentences you can streamline to pack a powerful punch in fewer letters.
Read it Aloud
You’ll be surprised how much your writing can sound perfectly fine in your head, but be totally disjointed when you read it aloud. You’ll notice those times when your sentences run on, where you might need a comma, or where you’ve repeated a word too often.
Print it Out
Reading on a screen, no matter how many times you’ve done it or how comfortable you are with it, is still so different to reading words in print. Your accuracy in identifying errors is far greater when you have a hard copy to refer to, especially when it comes to finding visually-similar mistakes. If you’re working on something that has to have the highest degree of accuracy, print it out, grab a pencil or a highlighter, and get to work.
Look for the Most Obvious
In your first read-over, search for the glaring errors – the typos, the spelling errors, that one time where you got your their/there mixed up, the visual formatting (how did that sentence get down there?), and any time you’ve written in passive voice. Pay special attention to apostrophes – most of the time they don’t need to be there. If it’s a possession or a contraction, fine, but keep them out of where they don’t belong.
Further Reading: Five Quick Grammar Tips to Improve Your Writing (Plus Free Downloadable Cheat Sheet)
Turn it Around
You’ll be surprised how much clearer a sentence can be if you flip it. Especially if you have that gut feeling that it’s too long or there’s something not quite right about it. Passive sentences can really disrupt your flow.
“In one day, a month’s worth of blog posts were written by me.”
Sounds so much better (and uses fewer words and has more of an effect on the reader) if it’s written:
“I wrote a month’s worth of blog posts in one day.”
There now, you’ve turned a passive sentence into a punchy, active one, losing extraneous words in the process. Well done!
Done is Better than Perfect
You could spend days tweaking your posts. You add, you take away, you add back, you switch around, you make eight versions of the headline in case one works better. Sometimes you end up going around in circles because you’re so into it now you can’t see straight, and your perspective is all off.
You just have to put your foot down and publish!
As journalists, we had a ready-made cutoff – it didn’t matter how much you had fiddled with your story, at some point it had to go to the printer, like it or not. Set yourself a cutoff, and remember – blogging gives you the gift of updating your post after publication if you really feel it needs it.
If you’ve followed Point One, I can almost guarantee you’ll find something!
Try it… You’ll Like it
If you’re unsure about a paragraph (or even a sentence), open a new document. Cut and paste all those “maybe” paragraphs into the document, and read your original post in its shortened form. Still think it could do with those words? Add them back in, no harm done. (Are you SURE, though?!)
It’s all very well and good to write something to convince people of your message, but you need stats to back it up. Ensure that all the numbers, anecdotes, and information you’ve included can be verified. Make sure there’s links to further information to help the reader understand your post, and to see the proof for themselves.
One top tip I learned is that if you’ve got questions, your reader will too. Wherever have made a bold claim, link to where you got your information. If you think that someone reading your post would benefit from your primary sources, then include them.
I know your work is precious. You’ve put a lot of effort into it. Your blog post is the culmination of hours of research, years of learning, numerous mistakes. You have a lot to say, and you think all of it is necessary.
It’s probably not.
There might be a place where you’ve repeated yourself. You might be able to make your point just as validly, but in fewer words. Some anecdotes, while funny, just won’t fit. Harden up and get rid of the bits that just aren’t working. There’s nothing stopping you from using that information in a future post, but your job here is to look at your work with a critical eye and make it the best it can be. How would you edit this if it was someone else’s work? What bits would you cut out in order to make your story better? Do that. You won’t regret it.
So tell me – do you find editing hard? Or are you constantly looking over everything you read with your editor hat on? (that can be just as bad – it’s harder to get lost in a story when you’re always getting tripped up by writing errors). What’s your best tip for self-editing?
Stacey is the Managing Editor of ProBlogger.net: a writer, blogger, and full-time word nerd balancing it all with being a stay-at-home mum. She writes about all this and more at Veggie Mama. Chat with her on Twitter @veggie_mama or be entertained on Facebook.
9 Crucial Tips for Self-Editing Your Blog Posts
How to Use Google in the Most Unusual Way to Make Your Self-Editing Faster and Better
How You Can Make Your Writing Twice as Fast by Making it 3 Times More Time Consuming. Wait, What?
Hemingway App highlights common errors, long sentences, and grammatical issues that need attention. It also helpfully colour-codes the changes to be made. If you write a lot, you might find this useful.
Grammarly has pretty hardcore algorithms to not only find spelling mistakes, but contextual spelling errors too.
Turn it around … Brilliant! I will use this every day!!!
Ha I hope it helps!
Great read and extremely well written. I sometimes find my editors hat is on too often. Even when writing my posts first draft. Like you said not a good thing.
I have gotten better, but still struggle with the passive voice mistake. Any good resources you know to get better at that?
Thank you! Have you read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White? The only thing I can recommend is to know it’s a weakness and to be especially wary of it. I like to put a post-it note on my computer reminding me to check the things I know I forget!
A very well written article with tips for self editing
hope i will improve my skills
thanks a lot for sharing
What a awesome article you have written with all required points. You always write great stuff.
Great post Stacey – thank you. When writing blog posts of 1,000 word length, I choose to write Monday, edit Tuesday and Wednesday and publish Thursday.
Writing notes in point form allows me to write with a map in mind so I don’t become side-tracked. These days I enjoy editing more than writing.
I am drawn to the quote by E. B White, “The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.”
Oh that’s a good system you have there! Do you always stick to it? Fabulous. I think I’ve always enjoyed editing more than writing. I had visions of me with cups of tea and red pens aplenty in my day job. Didn’t quite turn out like that!
Editing is always a good thing because it shows you’re “doing the transformation work at full strength.” At least “doing the transformation work,” when it comes to str8’n out yo’ grammar and handling your business in a very educational and entrepreneurial way, that is. :-)
oh this made me laugh!
Oh, thanks Stacey, this is helpful.
I already do most of above, like I do print every article, I actually read them aloud, like if I needed to talk about it on a radio or as a speech to an audience – if it sound good as a speech it’s good enough for a blog post.
The tip about copying “maybe” paragraphs to blank word document is very interesting to me. Because, I have lost my work trying to delete, read, and the Crtl+Z is not working anymore.
I also send my new article to a professional editor, but that’s only because English is my second language, and it’s crucial that there are no stupid things said. :D
oh yes I think that’s a fantastic idea, sending your articles out to people for whom English is their first language. It will improve your writing no end.
Great post. Editing is so hard. I go over and over my work with my editor, each time thinking it is ready to post. During the final read through, I believe the piece is ready, error free and will only take 10 minutes…how wrong. There is always something I am not happy with or an error or two. Sorry, but I have noticed your two by the way!
Well reading back over it, I just found four!
Article writing or any types writing is a best way for share your thought and skills about any social or society issues. By help of writing you can share your experience with your readers..
Great article.. thanks you this article..
Done really is better than perfect ;)
I feel largely clear on my work and figure it’s better to ship than wait so I do little editing.
My readers dig what I put out there; even if an error or 2 sneaks in.
Usually they don’t point the errors out to me ;)
Seriously though, if you face your fear of criticism or your silly obsession with an idea of perfection you’ll ship, you’ll ship, or you’ll publish, publish, after an edit or 2.
We improve by going live, after a read or 2.
On the flip side if you wait on the sideline you’re doomed. Nobody lives their dreams on the sidelines, and no crazy perfectionist who edited their work for weeks or even months ever made it big blogging, because nobody knew who they were lol.
I do 1 read, maybe 2, out loud, and go live. Keeps me sane.
Thanks Stacey, awesome tips!
Tweeting from Bali.
there’s gotta be a middle ground, right?!
Terrific read. I in particular liking reading it aloud before i post it anywhere. You never know, you might even spot the odd mistake here or there :)
It works so well!
The drawer idea is fantastic. You’ll hardly find your own mistake if you constantly working on a post. Fresh mind will give you new ideas for a particular sentence, making it more awesome. So I think before we start editing our first draft, we can work on writing some other posts. Great tips. Thanks for sharing.
Oh that’s such a good idea, yes!
this will surely help me in increasing my editing skills
Thanks for the great tips for improving editing skills specially the Grammarly.
Great advice! I’m going to share this with some of the authors I work with.
Stacey, editing, for the average person, is tough.
It’s great that you have provided a few tips for these people, and I’d like to add a tip of my own.
Use the Find and Replace tool.
Make it your friend.
Learn to love it.
It will help you more than you think!
1. You can search your document for anything. You can locate each instance of where you said “that,” which should be replaced by a different word (sometimes “which”) or you can re-structure your sentence altogether to eliminate the instance of the word.
2. You can find all places where you have accidentally typed two spaces, and replace them with a single space. Many people often (STILL) put two spaces after a period. Gosh, that is so 1980s. Let’s get with the program, people! This is no longer acceptable!
3. You can find all instances of any other particular words you are searching for. Verbs can be replaced by other, more exciting and meaningful ones. Use reference lists to help. There are many on the web.
4. You can find all instances of quotations and if they are used properly with periods, commas, question marks, and exclamation marks. Periods and commas go inside the quotations. Question marks and exclamation marks generally don’t, unless you are citing a quote where these marks are part of the original quote. Make sure you use single quotations and double quotations properly, too.
When Ryan said, “I live in Bali,” Kim said, “That’s great!”
Darren overheard this. Stacey asked him, “What did Kim say?”
Darren replied, “Kim said ‘That’s great!’”
If I write any more, this will likely turn into a blog post, so I’ll just stop here. ;)
Do you think these tips of mine are helpful, Stacey? Do you use any of them yourself?
Excessive use of words for bloggers and websites who focus solely on creating content for people to read and for search engine optimization purposes do so with the intention of ranking better than their competitors. As a result, they tend to be redundant, overuse verbs, so on and so forth.
Great.. Article really has got nice tips on editing. Very often we tend to mix writing and editing at the same time. It is then we lose control over what we are writing and what we want to write.
Really helpful tips Stacey, thanks.
Hadn’t thought of reading it aloud… I’ll give that a try next time.
I particularly need to work on “Done is better than perfect”. I find it SO difficult to stop tweaking!
Unless I’m really desperate I do leave at least one night before hitting the Publish button.
Have a great weekend. Joy
Brilliant advice. As someone who needs to edit – a lot – this is really useful. I’m also delighted to see ‘print it off’ as part of the advice – I thought it was just my inability to read things properly on screen! I hadn’t thought of reading it aloud though so will give that a try.
I advise people on writing funding bids, and leave it before you edit is crucial – otherwise, you end up trying to edit and write at the same time and that way madness lies.
I also advise people to get someone else to read it through to see if it makes sense. I appreciate that might not always be possible – particularly if you’re a lone blogger for example – but it can flag up jargon or just information that seems clear to the writer but not the reader.
Thanks for the post!
You’re welcome! I think there’s more to editing posts than people realise ;-)
Wait! I write…I am suppose to edit too? I always find the best way to edit is after I publish my post. It’s frustrating. I know I need to do better at editing and I so appreciate your thoughts here. Thank you!
Hahah yeah I know the feeling! I hope my tips can help x