How to Become a Lean Mean Editing Machine
Reading is a conversation between two people. In a face to face conversation one can ask and answer questions to clarify and complete the meaning and move on. When it comes to reading this isn’t possible.
This is what editing does. It clarifies and simplifies the content reducing the reader’s resistance to a minimum, and the only questions it leaves open are those that would make the reader want to know more. Reading becomes enjoyable and your work would be an effective selling tool.
Now, it doesn’t matter what you write about, a business presentation, an article or your life story. Editing will make it better. Because it will:
- Make the content more precise and concise; you get to the point and not mess about
- Make sure it says what it means; this is what you say
- Make sure it means what it says; this is what your reader understands
- Make sure it is presented in a consistent and easy to follow way; this is the job of the House Style
- Make your work ready to be published; so…
You can send your work into the world
When you send your work into the world without editing it readers will respond in two ways:
- They will tear it apart, or…
- Ignore it
If readers tear your work apart it’s not bad. In fact, it’s good. Because it means your work has created interest and feedback you can use to improve it. What you need to do is find ways to polish your content so, above all, it doesn’t get ignored. This is what we are going to do now. And at a later stage I’ll show you the principles of editing, how to edit fiction, non-fiction, how to build a house style and so on till I rip the guts out of editing till it hurts.
Before we get started, let’s get out of the way two misconceptions and make things easier for everyone’s sake.
1: You must write short copy.
Not true. You’ll be as long or as short you need to be to get your message through, tell your story or pitch for a product you want to sell. Let no one contradict me on this.
2: Proofreading is editing.
It isn’t. It’s a very small part of it. Here’s how to tackle proofreading.
Do it last. Every time you go back to your work mistakes and typos always sneak in. Always. By doing it last you save time and effort, and you are more focused because it’s the only task left to do.
The last article I wrote was about the stages every book goes through and after going over it many times I got sick of it and decided to publish it. And then I saw there were typos and mistakes. It turned out to be a blessing because the only way I could spot and tidy up mistakes was to read it as a user.
Also, please don’t rely on spell check only. Spell check is mechanical and it can’t tell the difference between correcting a spelling mistake and the word you want to use. How is the computer going to know you want to useseas instead of seal or seat? Always check spelling manually.
Let’s crack on.
7 tips to help you edit well and fast
1. Edit simply. Make the content easy to follow by using simple everyday language anyone can understand.
Use words that are easy to take in. Write for your most challenging reader, the reader with the most basic reading skill. If you manage to talk to and convince the person who resist the most you’ll get your message across to a wider audience. The easiest way to get started is by…
2. Learning how to use one word instead two words. For example,
huge instead of very big
stunning instead of extremely beautiful
deadly instead of life threatening
If one word can do the job of two why not use it? A good way to go about this is to…
3. Use Anglo-Saxon based words.
The English Language is made mainly of Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon based words. The Anglo-Saxon words are short, punchy and powerful and carry a lot of meaning. And because they have gone through fewer changes over time, their meaning is as raw as when they were first spoken. They are economical to use because they are easier to spell and write and use less space.
If there is an Anglo-Saxon word go for it, even if you risk being called an ‘illiterate peasant’. It doesn’t matter, you’ll have the last laugh. Here are some examples.
buy or purchase
jail or incarcerate
let or permit
lift or elevate
maker or manufacturer
show or demonstrate
What’s more, Anglo-Saxon words can be effective even as part of a word phrase. For example, set up andestablish; take part and participate.
Check this: take part (9 characters including spaces); participate (11 characters). Count now: took part andparticipated.
I know you are not convinced yet, so I’m bringing in a master, Ernest Hemingway. Here’s how he put it.
“I use the oldest words in the English Language. People think I’m an ignorant bastard who doesn’t know the ten-dollar words. I know the ten-dollar words. There are older and better words which if you arrange them in the proper combination you make it stick.”
4. Watch out for overused words or expressions.
Every content writer falls in love with words he or she uses over and over without knowing it. I went through a work once in which the writer used clearly, angry, and navy blue everywhere.
It’s not difficult to spot overused words as they tend to be adverbs and usually come in threes. Have no mercy. Strike them out. Or if you prefer a Latin based expression: exterminate them.
Going over your work time and again is what helps spotting what needs editing. But, what you don’t want to do is over polishing it. This is where the next step would come in handy.
5. Edit using the 1–2/3–5 rule. Here’s how this works.
- Use the 1st read to get a feel of the content. Make mental notes and leave it at that
- The 2nd / 3rd read is when the best editing happens. Go at it. Don’t hold back
- At and from the 5th read editing becomes fruitless. In fact, it can be dangerous, because it’s likely you start to ruin or over edit what you’ve done so far. Avoid it.
The best way to avoid over editing is by…
6. Taking a break from your work. Why?
Because it helps reduce your emotional attachment to your work which in turn helps you judge it more impartially. And because when you come back after a break the reader has taken hold of you unconsciously. As a reader, you can now make better changes, faster and easier.
There’s a catch. The reader in you won’t last long. That’s why you’ve got to milk this stage while it lasts. You need to edit as fast as you can, and the next tip is going to do the trick and…
Help you polish your work up to 50% faster
7. Use a highlighter, because it will help you:
- Be efficient
- Be economical
- Go through the content fast
- Keep the content cleaner and less confusing as you press on
For example, if you highlight in purple words you want removed, you don’t need to write ‘remove this’. So with other editing tasks. You tackle one task, colour, at a time. To make it effective use three or four colours. This works online. As odd as it may sound it works a treat. You’ll blast through.
These simple steps will help the reader go through your work with ease and help you get your message across fast and well. Above all, you’ll find your power of expression and your ability to cut through jargon and get to the point will improve immensely. This is difficult, and it’ll take a lot of practice. But this, my fellow writer, is priceless.
Enough said. The proof is in the pudding.
If you want to know if these tips work take a look at a short piece I wrote as part of a book. You can download the entire book or read the first chapters for free. Either way, it’ll help you see how you can use these tips to polish and improve what you write. Here’s the link: http://amzn.to/1lpUwNg
If you want to tear my work apart, do so. I’ll take it on the chin. It’s an effective way to start learning how to edit by having a go at someone else’s copy, because there is no personal risk to you and, also, you have no emotional attachment to it. Do it now. And if you think I talk rubbish and have wasted your time, please send me what you are working on and I’ll edit it for free. Here’s the link again: http://amzn.to/1lpUwNg
Thanks for reading
PS. 1 If you know any content writer, friends, family or colleagues, who would benefit from this piece, send it them, or share it through social channels.
PS. 2 If you have written a book feel free to submit a sample here: http://www.paulsmithpublishing.co.uk/login/
About the author: Paul Prifti
My full name is Paulin Prifti and I am based in London, UK. I publish books because books have the power to change lives. They have changed mine.
It doesn’t matter the language you write in. What really matters is your thoughts and feelings. You use words to put your thoughts and feelings together in a simple and clear way. You can write about anything you want. It’s important to make your writing matter.
Now, writing a book is not easy. Yet, it’s hugely rewarding and fun and becomes easier when you have a structure: a beginning; middle and an end. And this is why I like publishing. It gives me the chance to help new writers write better and get published. Make their books matter. And I do this through Paul Smith Publishing paulsmithpublishing.co.uk
So, if you have written a book or have an idea for one, fiction or non-fiction, I can help you get published. Feel free to get in touch.