So here’s the deal. I’m a wordy girl. I just am. Maybe for, let’s see, always!
I can’t help it; I get excited about things and also, I truly like words I think.
I’m a big reader…are you? If you are, maybe you get it.
Maybe you know the power of words and where they can take you and maybe writing is fun and interesting for you as it is for me.
But you must “kill your little darlings” as Stephen King famously put it in his book about writing and those “little darlings” as it turns out, are your words.
And of course, darlings that they are, you don’t want to part with them.
You slaved over your keyboard and racked your brain to come up with them. They seem quite brilliant. But don’t get too attached. It isn’t in your best interest.
Especially your favorite stuff, the wordiness, the fluff, the cutesy and poetic. Do not get attached, I warn you, nothing is sacred.
“But, but, but,” you’re saying, thinking, muttering. Yep. Me too.
It’s a tough lesson ladies and gentlemen.
And if you’re thick-headed like me, it’s a never ending lesson. But buck up, because I’m going to give you practical and useful details and resources to use right now so you can make your writing stronger immediately.
Hopefully, some of it will stick in your head, and you’ll continue to be a better writer every single time you write. That’s a great goal. I think I’ll make that my goal!
You’re probably wondering how my thick-headed self arrived at the realization that editing and concise copy is everything.
Well, I didn’t get it while taking writing courses, reading books, blogs, news, papers, e-books, magazines, webinars, seminars, and more, galore. Nope, none of that, with all the writing/reading/editing advice, did it. Not at all.
Constructive critiques didn’t do it. Not even from some big shot writers, nice enough to take a quick look at my work. I wanted to hear the advice, use it, and write better. But I was a little attached to my darlings.
Heck, my friend, an editor, once said, “Even an editor needs an editor.” How about that?
Thinking about what people said, started to be, at least, worth considering, and thinking over. Hmmm. Then…
I met Edward Scissorhands, or rather, his sister, and it finally hit me!
Long story told in a short way, (see I’m editing) goes like this:
Mom tells me, in that persuasively suggestive motherly way, I really need a haircut, and literally five minutes later, we enter our local hair salon. Trouble was brewing from the get-go when my customer card was gone (maybe it’s been too long since I was last there).
The nice lady asks when I was last in for a haircut, and I say, “About 6 inches or so ago.”
Giggles all around. So what do you want to do today? “Just a trim,” is my answer. Easy peasy.
Then Edward Scissorhands’ sister took over. Snip, snip, snip, snap, whoosh, snip, snap, blow out and tada. The new me. Whew, that was some quick, slick clipping.
As we’re hitting the sidewalk on our way out the door, I mention to my mom that my head sure feels lighter. I swing my head about a little, testing the new do. My mom says, “She sure did cut a lot off.”
I tell her there’s nothing to worry about because besides asking for just a trim, I told the hairdresser that I need to pull my hair up into a ponytail for work and boating, so it can’t possibly be too short and still do that, clearly.
But it was. And it wouldn’t. I mean, I couldn’t even pull it up. It wouldn’t reach.
If I were a normal girl, I would be tragically upset and hot with anger, perhaps. She “trimmed” at least 10 inches of my hair. Gone. Is that a “trim?” And I gave a nice tip, too. Humph.
It did tick me off for a second, I guess. Four months later and I still can’t pull all my hair up into a decent ponytail or an easy twist. But overall, I don’t care.
Hair just doesn’t mean that much to me. It’s only hair. It doesn’t hurt when it gets cut, and it grows back too. So big whoop.
And that's when it hit me like a free flying freight train head on. Splat.
Editing my writing is like cutting my hair. It doesn’t hurt me at all. In fact, it makes my work better. Stronger. Wow.
Drop it like it’s hot! Let it go.
Write this down: GET OVER YOURSELF.
You need to realize that you’re not nearly as good as you think you are. (At least I’m not.) At the same time, understand it is NOT personal. It’s just business. You are perfecting your product by embracing your buddy, old pal, editing.
So go ahead, get to know him, and like him. He is your friend. Keep telling yourself.
Don’t worry, I’m still working on a healthy relationship with editing, myself. Just remember, you have to commit to making it work:)
To sum up, adopting a mindset that allows you to view critically, review, tweak and ultimately edit your work to perfection (to your best ability) is the crucial first step. Yep, crucial.
Teachers. Tools. Techniques.
Once you wrap your head around the idea that a trim can, in fact, lead to 10 inches, or more, cut from your writing and left on the floor, it’s time to figure out how to accomplish the perfectly coifed final cut.
I don’t know about you but, I’m going for a showstopper, and achieving my goal to write better every single time.
I’m inspired to make this happen and willing to share my findings with you.
So, I’ve put together a combination of techniques, tools, and teachers I find enlightening and practical. Warning: don’t let any of these replace your brain, or construe any one of these as an ultimate final say in your work.
Technique 1: This tip is an easy, helpful trick I use consistently.
Writer and blogger extraordinaire, Sharon Hurley Hall, kindly shared it with me in a LIVE interview/webinar, about the writing process.
An “aha moment” struck me during this talk, making me realize: editing is part of the writing process.
Sometimes, when you are so focused on the writing itself, you may skip over the mega-significant polish that proper editing brings to your work. And your work craves. Soooo…
Lose the “that.” The what? No, “that.” It’s simple. Go through your writing and drop the word, “that,” anywhere your sentence still makes perfect sense.
If you’re like me, you stand to lose about 100 words at a time, just by dropping unnecessary uses of the word “that.” Thank you forever for this one, Sharon.
Technique 2: Brush up on the basics. Like standard grammar.
Mistakes happen. Stupid mistakes make you look bad. And worse, they’ll scare readers, customers, prospects, and potential clients/employers away.
Cathy Miller, in her trademark simply stated way, makes it easy and fun for you in this SlideShare she calls, “Terrifying Typos” but I say it looks like scary grammar to me!
For less fun, but a more in-depth exploration of proper grammar usage, proper punctuation and more, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, widely considered “the official style guide used by writers and editors,” is a good place to start. At one time, it was THE go-to guide for journalists, in general.
While it is still known and used, The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. And E.B. White (shown below) keeps popping up as the current recommendation for writers.
That said, I see it talked about often in writing courses, organizations, etc. so I’m giving you the information, and you can decide for yourself. (Stay tuned for a better alternative!)
An important note for you on universal rules for grammar, punctuation, usage, and style: The rules vary by platform, which I know seems redundant.
My best advice is to follow the appropriate style or guidelines for who you are writing for, and who you are writing to. Ask for accepted guidelines and try to work within them as best as possible.
Writers break rules, sometimes in a way that becomes their “signature” but, mostly they break rules for the purpose of making their work the best they can, feeling that the broken rule adds or assists in what they want to express.
I get it. But if it means a publish or not, you may want to go with the standard requested or explain your reason (it BETTER be good) not to follow directions.
Technique 3: Wielding words. What do I mean by that?
Writing and words, words and writing. Well, it’s an entanglement that brings ideas, information, products, procedures, creativity and more, to life.
But doing it well is a matter of craft. Thoughtful use of language and practice are the key components.
I give you this tidbit of Infographic by Brian Clark, founder in some respects, of blogging/writing on the Internet to business success. It pretty much says it all:
“Practice makes perfect, but only if you do it right,” is an oldie, but true in most things, however; writing is a subjective kind of thing, and that adds to the struggle to get it “right.”
I just work to do better as I go and to keep learning and growing along the way, more than worry about being perfect.
I’ve had people both love and hate the same piece of work. See what I mean?
I strive for two things in my work, writing or otherwise:
- quality and
I try to do the best I can every single time I write. Looking for tips and tricks to do it better and better is an ongoing process. Lucky for us both, there’s a gem out there in the enchanted forest called the web.
Let me introduce you (if you haven’t already read and love her stuff) to Henneke Duistermaat from EnchantingMarketing.com. Henneke and her “Snackable” digestible tidbits for writing will make you think the enchanted writing godmother you have been waiting for has at long last arrived. Start by sampling these:
p.s. When I wrote the scissors cutting section in this, ending with “quick, slick clipping,” I thought of Henneke:)
Technique 4: Finding your writing piece/peace of mind.
Lots of advice out there will tell you the habits, practices, tricks, etc. of great writers, how to work at your highest productive level, and what to incorporate in your practice of writing.
In my estimation, writing is a solo sport. Not completely, but you know what I mean here.
Figuring out your particular winning strategy, your best work habits, your prime times for personal productivity, inspiration, reading and research, education, and improving your craft will, ultimately, depend on you.
As a general overview, these apply to me, and maybe you too, maybe to all writers. I see these in various formats all over writing, blogging, copywriting, and author media all the time:
- Find a comfortable place to write. (Clean, cluttered, indoor, outdoor)
- Have some writing privacy from everything else. (Distraction free space)
- Discover your preferred instrument(s) for writing. (Pen/paper, App, Writing Software, Voice Recorder, Journal, or mix of these and others)
- Schedule time to write without fail and to ALWAYS make deadlines. (Organization system of some sort)
- Figure out your best writing system. (Work from a Headline/or not, an Outline/or not, Research before/after Drafting, Collect research in Evernote/Trello/Google Docs/Notes)
- Schedule “walk-away” time. (To see your work with fresh eyes or a new perspective)
- Leave time to edit. More. Than. Once. (Read aloud, Read backward, Ask someone else)
This article by Sharon Hurley Hall, the same writer I started this section with, brings you an excellent overall take on this, based on Stephen King’s book, mentioned earlier.
Writing Tool Talk.
To expand on the last point and bottom line to writing with polish, or dropping darlings, or chopping it off, as per your needs, let’s talk tools.
Relax. It turns outs there are tools to help in a huge way and with ease. I’ll keep it to 3 and for more info, kikolani has you covered in this recent post by Robert Morris.
- Flesh-Kincaid Readability Calculator determines the grade level of your writing. The average reader reads at a much lower level than you may expect. Shorter sentences, simpler vocabulary and less complex/compound sentences, all factor in for this scoring.
- Hemingway Editor or App, named after the writer, works similarly to the above with simple color codes to identify writing issues.
- Grammarly is a more robust editing app, and I started using it per a post by Kristi Hines, suggesting how handy it is and I like it. My favorite help from Grammarly is with verb tense issues, and as much as I try not to have them, they keep springing up along my merry writing way. Also, it seems I have a split infinitive problem and constantly want to write them backward. These things are good to discover about yourself. Try it.
Teachers To Tether To
You can learn something from every person, and in that case, I change teachers as often as other people change their underwear. Often, that is. (Hopefully!)
That’s why I use “tether to” in talking “teacher” here.
If you happened to catch my last guest post, (Why My Blog is a Hog) I named some “leaders,” of interest. I included established writers, content marketing experts, bloggers, social and digital media pros, copywriters and business persons in the digital space I follow, study, admire, or all of the above.
Learning from people in your field helps YOU. Following their example, reading their work, absorbing their expertise, and aspiring to be of the same caliber, gives you goals and even focus.
At the moment, here’re my top picks, but you will find your own perfect mix.
I don’t know if I pick Ann Handley because:
- at the same time as I was reading her recent book, a big time writer told me, my writing “seems Ann-like” and it flew to my head
- her book’s pretty fantastic, helpful and fun
- she’s a successful writer with a broad scope of work, beyond her brilliant books, including the not too shabby likes of Entrepreneur Magazine, among others
- she seems to work tirelessly, teaching, presenting, and sharing her writing and marketing expertise far and wide, throughout the land while still guiding and shining in her capacity at MarketingProfs
- she’s got the tweeting thing down pat
No matter, you will learn something from Everybody Writes, where Ann shares gems like, “Add blog bling” and says this about editing:
…writers tend to equate editing with fixing the grammar, when it’s so much more than that.”
Yep. I promised you a better alternative for grammar/usage/style, and this is it. And it’s all that and more—a go-to reference. Promise.
If Ann is an elegant champagne, my next teacher pick is more like a boiler-maker.
If you don’t know what that is, it’s some gross concoction that basically slams a whiskey shot into a glass of beer to digest as one, in an unruly steel town guzzle.
Heck, Neville Medhora refers to himself as a fat ass sumo. He’s irreverent, cocky, funny (at least to him, not always me) and possibly a little nuts. Either that or he’s poisoned himself with one too many tacos while plotting “Killer” Kopy (his trademark spelling) with Noah for AppSumo.
The thing about Nev is, his zany lessons and Kopywriting “Kred” will teach you something whether you like it or not. Get on his email list and buckle your seatbelt, so you’re ready for a Kopywriting “Krash” Kourse!
I always open and read anything he sends—I’m just saying.
Finally, a newbie to my teachers with pizazz list and a great source, particularly if you are interested, as I am, in creating what Dr. Kelly Edmonds calls, “a learning journey.”
To us, this means writing e-courses of an unlimited variety, Dr. Kelly offers clear, spot on, first-rate guidance and advice.
I haven’t enrolled in anything that cost money (yet) with Dr. Kelly, but I feel like she gives me a more direct, helpful and accurate presentation in her skilled approach than any single source on one single specific topic. You can’t help but learn from, and like, Dr. Kelly Edmonds. Go learn something to add to your writing toolbox at her site.
Well, that’s it for now, although I could probably go on. In spite of at least a 10 inch trim, I may still need an editor!
Hopefully, you picked up some useful points. Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading.