This post is based on episode 168 of the ProBlogger podcast.
We often talk about being a great writer. But most great writers are also great editors, because chances are their first drafts were far from perfect.
So here’s how to be a great editor of your own work and have people think you’re a great writer, too.
Step 1. Plan what you’re going to write
Okay, so this isn’t technically part of the editing process. But planning what you’re going to talk about before you start writing will make the editing process a lot easier. It’s far easier to set up a good structure at the beginning than to rearrange entire paragraphs later on to try and create one.
I usually start by creating an outline of the content I’m creating. I write down the main points I want to cover, and then arrange them into a structure so I can easily segue from one point to the next and take the reader on a journey.
At the stage everything is quite analytical and logical.
But once I have my outline, I can switch to being more creative because I no longer have to think about the structure. I simply follow my outline.
Sometimes a new idea will pop into my head while I’m writing the content. When that happens, I take a step back and see if it will fit into the structure I’ve created. If it can, then I’ll add it to my outline and get back to writing. And if it doesn’t, then I make a note of it (in case I can use it in a future post) and get back to the writing.
Step 2. Let your post sit for a while
Our brains have two hemispheres. The right hemisphere deals with creativity and imagination, and is what we’re using the most when we’re in the writing flow. But editing is a much more analytical and logical process, which is what our brain’s left hemisphere deals with.
(Ever tried to edit while you’re writing and ended up feeling frustrated? It’s because both sides of your brain are practically fighting with each other.)
But switching your thinking from the creative side of your brain to the analytical side takes a little time. So when you’ve finished writing your post, let it sit for a while before you start editing. It might be an hour or two, or it might be a day. But try not to think about it too much in that time so you can come back to it with a clear head as well as a logical mind. Just don’t leave it so long that you lose interest in it.
Another advantage of letting it sit for a while is you won’t feel quite so attached to your words when you come back. And that’s really important when it comes to editing, because chances are a lot of them will need to go.
Step 3. Look at the big picture
You’ve let your post sit for a bit, and now you’re ready to start editing. But before you dive into the details, you should ask yourself these questions about your post from a ‘big picture’ perspective. And then keep editing your post until you’re happy with the answers.
Does it have a point?
Is there a benefit for my readers? You may find you just wrote it to get something off your chest.
Will it change my readers’ lives in some way?
Is it ‘meaty’ enough? Maybe it needs a bit more depth, another example, or perhaps some links to further reading.
Am I being too repetitive? Could you combine some of your ideas to remove the repetition?
Are my ideas in the right order? Do they flow logically? This is where planning your structure before you start writing pays off.
Have I gone off on a tangent, or included information that doesn’t really ‘fit’? This is why it’s good to let your post sit for a bit. You won’t mind ditching this unnecessary information quite so much.
Would you enjoy reading this piece if it had been written by someone else?
Step 4. Focus on cutting stuff out
No matter how well you think you’ve written your post, chances are you’ll be able to cut words, sentences or even paragraphs without losing any of the good stuff.
So trim the fat, and keep the meat.
Do you take a few paragraphs to explain what your post is about? You really need to hook your reader in the first paragraph, so try to edit those opening paragraphs to one strong paragraph that quickly gets to the point.
Does your conclusion waffle on a bit? Try cutting it down as well so it stays in your readers’ minds long after they’ve finished reading your post.
Are there any sentences that don’t add any useful information? Get rid of them.
Step 5. Look at the details
So far you’ve looked at your post’s overall structure, and added and taken away large chunks of information. Now it’s time to take a much closer look at your post – line by line, and even word by word.
Unfortunately, you’re probably so familiar with the words by now that your brain will make the corrections for you as you’re reading. You need a way to look at it with fresh eyes.
One way to do this is to use someone else’s. I often ask someone else to read what I’ve written and let me know about any problems they find. But if I can’t get someone else to read it then I’ll print out a copy, slowly read it sentence by sentence, and circle any problems I find with a red or green pen.
I also read my piece out loud. This not only helps me find problems I missed reading it in my mind, but also makes it obvious if a sentence is too long or doesn’t sound as conversational as it could be.
If it’s a really important post, I’ll also read it out loud to someone else. You become very conscious about how it sounds, and it can alert you to problems you may have missed.
Finally, I’ll do what I call a visual edit by hitting the Preview button in WordPress to see how it will look when it’s published.
Step 6. Do an SEO edit
You should always write for your readers rather than search engines. But before I hit publish I think about the words people would type into Google to find my post. And then I try to weave some of those words into the title, the opening paragraph, and maybe even the URL.
Step 7. Publish your post
You should definitely take the time to edit your posts before you publish them. But don’t get too obsessive about it. At some point you need to stop editing and hit ‘Publish’.
Because it will never be perfect. And you can always go back and fix any problems you find later on.
What’s your process?
Do you follow a similar process when you edit your blog posts? Or do you have extra steps (or perhaps completely different ones) that you follow? Tell us about your editing process in the comments.
Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash