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The Four Letter Word All Great Writers Love

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser talks about the necessity of editing as a practice of the professional writer. In that sense, none of us are great writers, rather we must all learn to make it our consistent practice to edit repetitively until we have condensed our words into their simplest form. This makes reading a pleasure for your audience and will set your writing apart for its ease of meaning and flow.

As a writer with deadlines, how do you achieve this? Simple, write early and write often. The more you write, the more familiar you will become with both your own style and how to write for any audience. The edits will start to happen as a natural matter of course.

Your audience, like you, has limited free time. More than ever, as we're pressed on all sides to be everything to everyone, we have less and less time for other pursuits. Few of us would elect to spend a moment more than necessary reading articles and posts that are dull, wordy, or consistently veer off topic.

There are several ways to edit your writing., and all should be used interchangeably. In fact, to become a great editor of your work you'll want to use more than one method. Know that no matter which method you choose, there is no right or wrong way to edit. You must keep in mind the topic, your own audience and what they like, and your own voice. It's not an exercise in erasing your unique personality from your work. Editing takes the best of correcting punctuation, grammar, and syntax, and combines it with the practice of brevity and flow.

The methods of editing include editing as you go, sentence by sentence, or editing the full written piece when complete. There are benefits and drawbacks to each method, and any editing should always be done after you have taken a short (or long) break from looking at the work. This gives you a fresh perspective and might even bring new ideas to light.

As you move through the editing process you need to make sure that you are reading the work from the perspective of your audience, the reader, and not you, the writer and editor. One very good way to connect with this feeling is to read a piece out loud. When you read out loud you remove any pretentious language automatically because it sounds fake.

Another cautious practice is to do very limited editing the first time around. There is a definite appeal to rewriting something entirely in the light of a new day. But remember that you liked what you wrote when you wrote it, and there are still good and valid points of information to be taken from the original draft. Move slowly, and only replace what jumps out at you the first time around. You'll have time for another, more in depth, edit after. 

If you feel that you've gone off topic, go back to your original notes and ideas to see if you can get yourself back on course. Remember too that the longer the piece is, the more time (generally) you will spend on editing before you notice a shift in the quality and tone.


If you're on a deadline, and all of this is completely impossible, at least run spell-check, and read it aloud. Those two practices alone will give you some great insight into how to write conversational pieces that will appeal to just about any audience. Trust me, your readers will thank you.

 

Copyright © 2013 Patricia Ross. All rights reserved.

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