(Editor’s note: Last week, Jerry gave advice on being gentle when editing others’ writing but ruthless when editing your own. In this article, he provides specific ways of doing exactly that.)
By Jerry Brown, APR (used by permission)
Edit, edit, edit. Then edit some more. Be ruthless when editing your own copy. Don’t fall in love with your own words just because you wrote them.
Some writers don’t like to let other people review what they’ve written before they publish it. I’m in the opposite camp. I want other people to read what I’ve written and give me their feedback.
At times, of course, you don’t have a choice. If you’re writing for clients, they’ll want to review and edit your copy. That’s their right. And they get to decide what does or doesn’t get used in the final draft.
But at other times you, the writer, decide. If I have the final say and other people suggest a change, I pick the version I think works best. Sometimes it’s mine; more often it’s theirs.
Mostly, it’s important to be objective when deciding–and be grateful for the help. If two people suggest essentially the same change, I make their change unless I’m absolutely certain my version is better. If three people suggest a change, I make the change no matter what. It means my version isn’t working.
I also use editing games to improve my own copy. Here are four of them:
- Eliminate the orphans. An orphan is a word or two alone on a line at the end of a paragraph. Edit every paragraph that ends with an orphan. If you’re not used to doing this, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to take a word or two out of these paragraphs and eliminate the orphan without affecting your message. Your writing will become crisper and, therefore, better.
- Make the piece shorter. Your word processor will tell you how many words you’ve written. Pick a smaller number and see if you can eliminate words, phrases, or even sentences and paragraphs that shorten your copy without removing anything essential. You wrote 500 words? Can you get it down to 400? If you get to the new word count easily, then pick a smaller number and repeat. Keep trimming until the only way to cut more is to eliminate something that’s important to your story. Then it’s time to stop.
- “Listen” to your writing. Good writing, like good music, has a rhythm. If something doesn’t sound right, consider changing it. I learned this as a speechwriter and it works for other writing, too.
- Come back to your writing later with fresh eyes. Are you still satisfied it’s the best it can be? Or can you hone it further? I often make major improvements when I come back to a “finished” piece for one last look. Even if you can’t wait until later, taking one last look is a good idea.
Jerry Brown specializes in Media Training, Media Relationships, and Message Development at www.pr-impact.com.
What “games” do you find effective that you can add to this list? Share them here.