5 Easy Editing Steps to Polish Your Writing

hand and penThe “writing process” is something that gets a lot of emphasis in American schools these days. And for good reason. A lot of people have anxiety about writing because they think they are supposed to produce Shakespeare after one draft.

Even Shakespeare didn’t produce Shakespeare after one draft. In fact, he probably got a lot of input from the actors and directors and copywriters.

So I liked the idea of the writing process. The problem was it produced even more anxiety for the students. Now instead of worrying about just writing well, they worried about prewriting and revising and proofing and editing and, well, writing too.

So here is the old revision process I taught:

1) Revise.

2) Revise.

3) Revise.

4) Revise.

5) Revise.

In fact, there are a lot more than five steps to this process. It just keeps going until something else seizes your imagingation.

Does that list look too facetious? Think about it this way.

1) Revise the idea from your head to the paper. Reimagine the idea as it might appear if you can only use words. This could look like an outline, a bunch of notes on loose leaf paper, charts and graphs and doodles, a stack of index cards, a series of blog posts, a collection of annotated links…

2) Revise what you have into sentences and paragraphs, fiction or nonfiction, story or argument, poetry or prose or drama. Choose the form and make it with words.

3) Revise the idea again. Read your sentences out loud. See which ones cause you to stumble. Mark them. Change them so they don’t cause you to stumble anymore.

4) Revise again. Look for bad metaphors and cliches. Look for good images and metaphors. If you don’t have any good images or metaphors, add some.

5) Revise again. Look at the verbs. If you have a lot of “to be” verbs cut the number in half. In fact, try to do that anyway.

You see how this keeps going and going and going. Here’s the trick. Each step of the process only looks to make a few decisions. Revise to add better verbs. Revise to smooth out sentences. Revise to add dialogue.

It takes a long time. But so does running a marathon. People love running marathons because of the incredible sense of accomplishment.

I’m not big on marathons, but I like that sense of accomplishment. So I write.

Note: To summarize my riff on Brian Clarke’s 10 steps to Becoming a Better Writer: Revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, revise, until you quit, publish, or die.

This post was also inspired by a conversation that began on Dawud Miracle’s post Maybe the Best Copywriting Tip Ever.

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