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17 Insanely Useful Tips to Polish Your First Draft and Master The Art of Self-Editing

Profile photo of Jasper Oldersom Submitted by Jasper Oldersom January 24, 2016

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Many writers share a “secret”. Their first drafts are not as pretty as they would like you to think. I’ve heard successful writers say their first drafts are unpublishable and 7-figure bloggers claiming their writing is somewhat weak on the first draft.

For most bloggers and solopreneurs hiring an editor is too costly. Therefore, it makes sense to master self-editing.

Is it possible? The answer is simple: Yes, it is! As a matter of fact, I’ll set you up on the fast-track to editing your own articles right now….so buckle up, take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!

1. Cut Out Unnecessary Words

Something that almost all copywriters and conversion optimization specialists agree on is that persuasion trumps force, but clarity trumps persuasion. This is why you need to make your writing easy to read.

Try to use about as many words as necessary, but no more. People are usually short on time. They have other things to do. Make it easy for your readers to understand your message, they will thank you for it.

2. Realize You Make Mistakes

Ever heard of positive hallucinations? It’s when you hallucinate something that’s not really there. You see someone down the street, and you recognize them as one of your friends. Phew…you almost waved, could’ve been so awkward!

In the same way, you overlook your own mistakes when it comes to writing. Sometimes we just see what is supposed to be there, even though it’s not. That’s perfectly fine, though…and there’s a way to deal with it.

3. Nap time!

Yep, I’m recommending you to (responsibly) procrastinate.

Why?

Because editing right after writing rarely results in tight editing. You’re just too in love with your own words. Taking some distance helps because we tend to see what’s supposed to be there.

Get some distance and you’ll detect imperfections, holes in your writing and even critical grammar mistakes will jump out where you didn’t see them before. Of course, we can’t always afford the luxury of time..but at least, take some time away from your writing before reviewing it.

4. Get Rid Of Common Grammar Errors

I admit it. My grammar ain’t always on point. Am I the only one? Nope. Even legendary copywriters like Ben Settle make mistakes. He doesn’t worry about losing sales or people who criticize him for them. *cough* More specifically, he says:

“It’s been my observation that people who pound their chests hardest over typos or refuse to buy anything from an ad or email with bad grammar are almost always anal retentive writers, editors or loser intellectuals who can’t sell their way out of a paper bag, so they make up for it by becoming overly obnoxious spelling nazis” – Ben Settle.

But does that mean you shouldn’t care? Of course not. I recommend Henneke Duistermaat for a writer to model. She is strict about getting her grammar on point and writing vividly in the process.

Also, you could scan your article for these 20 grammar mistakes that almost everyone gets wrong.

5. Use Shorter Words

A simple tip for any writer: use a thesaurus and make it a habit to replace long, complex words with shorter ones. For example, the policeman could be the cop. Why would this even matter? It’s simple: short words are easier to process. You don’t want anyone to stumble over your words and risk losing their attention, right?

I quote Chris Goward“You see, our brains are like computer CPUs. We may think we’re smart, but we have limited processing power and any ‘application’ we run can use it up and reduce our ability to process other applications (e.g. other streams of information)”

The way I see it: shorter words take less brain power, which results into a focused reading experience. This goes for both writing copy and blog posts. Avoid jargon and complicated words.

6. Replace Dull Examples With Strong Metaphors

I once read a book called “The Tall Lady With The Iceberg”. It was a fantastic introduction to the world of metaphors and how they can benefit you for business. We often try to painfully describe something that could easily be communicated through a strong metaphor.

One of the examples from the book truly explained the power of a metaphor simply but beautifully:

Which airline safety instruction would make you stop reading your magazine or book?
A. “Under your seat is a life-jacket. Please remove it if instructed by the crew.”
B. “In the event this flight suddenly becomes a cruise, you’ll find your lifejacket under your seat.”

Which one do your prefer?

7. Contractions ain’t bad!

Putting some personality in your writing never hurt anybody…This is is why contractions aren’t bad. They’re good! It makes someone feel like they’re dealing with a real person. Don’t you agree?

8. Read Your Own Writing Out Loud

No quicker way to find out writing mistakes by reading it out to yourself or others. It is absolutely illuminating. Yes, it might be kind of awkward..but it works and you have to try it at least once!

9. Make It Breathe

Use lots of white space when writing for the web. It’s less intimidating. Do you like seeing big blocks of text? It seems like a chore to get through them. It’s not the amount of words that make it a bad experience. It is the lack of white space.

Be generous with your enter button. You might find your on-page time has increased the next time you check your Google Analytics.

10. Check The Rhythm

Is there any rhythm in your writing? If you only write long dull sentences, reading through your article will be a tough nut to crack. But you’re smart, so I know you won’t do that. By simply alternating short and longer sentences, you create a nice rhythm. It’s easy, got it?

11. Print Your Piece

Why is it that we can always give sound advice to someone else’s problems, but we can’t find the solution to our own issues? This is because of a process called dissociation. In editing, it is also important to disassociate from your writing. It’s hard to find errors and cut sentences if we are too involved.

Try it out: print your piece of work out after taking some distance from your writing. Grab a pen, and start slashing every unnecessary word. If you can find grammatical errors, circle them. I am confident you’ll find that printing it out helps you to disassociate and be relentless.

12. Start At The End and Work Backward

.desucof yllaer eb ll’uoy ,gninnigeb eht sdrawot daer dna hpargarap tsal eht ta trats uoy fi :kcirt rehtona s’ereh.

Ehm..you didn’t think I meant backward literally, right? I said; here’s another trick: if you start at the last paragraph and read towards the beginning, you’ll be really focused. You’re most likely going to see what’s “supposed” to be there because you read in a different pattern then you wrote it.

It’s just another way to disassociate and spot your own mistakes. Try it out and let me know how you like it!

13. Use Tools Like Hemingway and Grammarly

Nowadays we have many amazing and cheap tools to our disposal, and I can fully recommend the ones I mention above.

Hemingway is a desktop application that allows you to gauge your readability. If you follow their guidelines, you can’t go wrong. It’s not free, but at $7.99 it’s only a small investment.

Grammarly is an online app, but they also have an insanely useful (and free!) browser extension. Grammarly premium includes more features, checks, and corrections, but it’s worth trying out the free account first.

14. Get Specific

We are painting pictures with our words. You have a lot of influence over when you master the art of writing. But when you write dull and boring sentences, you influence people to do one of these 2 things: doze off, or get distracted.

When you get really specific, you can sell more products because people can “see” it in front of them. This is not only important when writing copy, it’s also important when writing blog posts!

Here is an excellent example from copywriter Drew Eric Whitman out of his fantastic book Ca$hvertising:

DON’T SAY: “People love our authentic Italian food because we prepare it like we do for our own family. Try it, it’s delicious!”

DO SAY: “We make our pasta fresh every morning. We bake our own bread, golden and crusty. Our sauce is made from scratch—never from cans. Everything we serve is homemade, 100 percent natural, and delicious.”

15. Get Feedback

This is one of the few tips I’ll give you that includes the help of others, but it’s thát important. When you publish, you’ll inevitably get feedback on your writing. If you don’t, you can ask some people that are willing to be ruthless and honest.

Even though this is not something you can conveniently do to improve your writing befóre publishing, it will prove to be worth it in the long run. I recommend that you take honest feedback seriously, and take notes.

16. Make Sure You Are Writing To One Reader

Even though your articles, e-mails could reach a big audience, you should always write to just one person. Avoid sentences like: “some of you may…”. You are not teaching in front of a class. It’s much more powerful when you make someone feel like it was personally written to them.

To avoid this, get to know your ideal reader in your mind, and have him or her sit in front you while you write. Think about the things they worry about, what they love, what they hate. You can get as specific as you want. Does she or he wear glasses? What kind of movies do they like?

This is an excellent example of an article from a writer that clearly knows it’s audience.

17. Did You Check Your Facts?

If you state something, make sure that you’re right about it. Check the facts. If possible, provide the source. We do this because we don’t want to give misleading or wrong information. It might take some extra time, but it’ll give you an edge over the competition. Think about it: what if people will start to recognize you for a trustworthy source of information?

Conclusion

Now that you have these tools at your disposal, it’s your turn. Go ahead and make that sloppy first draft into a shining diamond. Nobody will ever see those clumsy mistakes you made, but they were necessary.

Why?

An empty page staring you right in the face is intimidating. You need to get that first word on there, fast. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it won’t be. But if you never start, you’ll never be able to say I love having written.

Did you learn something new or have any other interesting editing tips you want to share? Let me know in the comments because I always like to learn from my readers!


This post was originally published in http://opportunitybuilding.com/17-insanely-useful-tips-to-polish-your-first-draft-and-master-the-art-of-self-editing/ by Jasper Oldersom

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Love to teach & Learn | Coffee please! | Freelance blogger / Copywriter @ http://opportunitybuilding.com | make an impact with words | Amsterdam | Let's connect!
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