It’s no secret that most people suck—and I mean SUCK—at writing. But like any skill, you can improve with a little practice and the right tools in hand.
Follow along to find out how proper editing is the key to helping you become a better writer.
The Ugly First Draft
I love first drafts. You know the saying about writing drunk and editing sober? It’s true! Your first draft should be made up of complete word vomit. Get all your joys, sorrows, advice, and expertise out on the page without editing or reviewing your work. Just put the words on the page. It won’t be pretty. It will be… the ugly first draft.
The big secret no one is telling you about becoming a better writer is that your writing isn’t the problem. Your editing is the problem. Once that ugly first draft is on the page, most people don’t know what to do with it. That’s why I’ve put together this list inspired by the most recent episode of The Managing Editor Show. (Check it out! I’m the host!)
Here are four quick and dirty editing tips you can implement today to become a better writer. That’s right, fam! After today, you don’t have to suck at writing anymore.
1. Kill Your Darlings With the 15% Rule
Fifteen percent of your content probably does suck. But no judgment here! You did what we asked you to do. You wrote the ugly first draft.
When you look back through your writing with a critical eye, you’ll start to notice there’s a whole lot of fluff: extra adjectives and adverbs, boring anecdotes, and points that don’t serve the piece. That’s all fine and good for a first pass, but now that you’re editing, it’s time to cut the crap.
Get rid of 10-15% of what you wrote. Lose the fluff so that your content becomes a lean, mean, readable machine.
2. Passive Voice Is Not to Be Used
See what I did there? I used passive voice to talk about cutting passive voice? I’m hilarious, I know.
A quick grammar primer from high school: sentences use an “active voice” when the subject performs the action of the verb. In “passive voice” the would-be subject receives the action of the verb, making it a prepositional phrase instead.
Active voice: The dog bites the little kid.
The dog is the subject. He performs the verb, in this case, “to bite.” The kid is the object.
Passive voice: The little kid was bitten by the dog.
Now, the former subject, our mangy friend, is part of a prepositional phrase. The old object, the kid who was probably antagonizing the dog tbh, is now the subject. The verb “to bite” has gone from an active to passive tense.
Using passive voice isn’t always wrong. In fact, sometimes it improves your writing. But more often than not, passive voice is simply lazy, and, well, less active. Cut the passive voice unless it’s necessary.
3. Get Punchy With Periods
You want people to read what you have to write, right?
The attention spans of your readers are getting shorter, not longer. And your writing should reflect that. Keep your paragraphs short and make your sentences easier to read so that all those skimmers out there still get the goods.
One of the quickest ways to make your sentences easier to read is to use a variety of lengths. It will improve the flow of your writing, make things sound punchier than they did before, and drive your points home. See? Watch me work:
Your sentences don’t need to be made up of 300-word soliloquies. You’re not Shakespeare.
4. Read to Your Cat
The only way to get better at writing and editing is to read more. Read more newspapers, more fiction, more non-fiction. (But read fewer political pieces. Trust me. It’s only rotting your brain.) As a well-read person, you will be able to tell what’s working and what’s not as you read through a piece of your writing.
Even so, it’s tough to edit your own work, especially when it’s words on a page. That’s why you need to read it out loud.
Close your office door, politely ask your cat to stop staring at you, and quietly read the writing out loud. Do certain words trip you up? Do you have to read a particular sentence three times before it starts to make sense? Those are the places where you need to implement tips one through three.
What are your favorite editing tips? I’ll be sharing more in future episodes of The Managing Editor show, so please take a minute to comment below if you’re so inclined and subscribe to the show to get all the fun editing, writing, and pitching goodness you can handle!