“Writing is easy,” said Mark Twain. “All you have to do is cross the wrong words.”
Revisiting a first draft to edit and rewrite it doesn’t sound much fun. But this only happens when you’re trying to focus on too many things at once – words, grammar, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, ideas, the flow.
It gets overwhelming fast and can undo the entire magic of your writing if you do it in the wrong order.
I went searching for a system to resolve this. A while ago, I adopted Ann Handley’s writing system she explains in her book ‘Everybody Writes.’
She breaks editing down into two different processes – editing by chainsaw and editing by surgical tools.
Ever since I started following this framework, editing has become exciting and, in a way, liberating.
Here’s how it works.
Editing by chainsaw. First, ignore the grammar and the specific words you’ve used and focus on the bigger stuff.
- State your key idea as clearly as you can near the start. You might’ve over-explained or focused too much on setting up the idea instead of getting right into it. If so, cut down on the introductory text, or (if it’s really good) use it elsewhere.
- Slash anything that feels beside the point – if it doesn’t further your argument or distracts from the key idea. (Even if it’s a good story or anecdote.)
- Make every paragraph earn its place. Every paragraph should contain an idea that the one before or after it doesn’t. Don’t just pile together disconnected sentences into a paragraph. Sentences should build on one another, expanding a single idea and creating a whole.
- Make every sentence earn its place. Does every sentence add something unique to the paragraph? If it simply restates what its buddy before already said, kill it. Be ruthless. Adopt a less-is-more mindset: don’t waste unnecessary time getting to the point.
- Move things around. Are things in the right order? I often surprise myself with how many sentences or paragraphs I reorder after the first draft, but it works wonders. Only if you’re 100% happy with the order of ideas, think about the flow and transitions.
- Think of the sentences in a paragraph as a conversation between an elderly, companionable couple. They don’t talk over each other; they expand and reflect on what the other before them said.
Editing with surgical tools. Only after you’re happy with everything above, it’s time to turn your attention to the words.
- Trim the bloat and fat. Are you potentially using far too many words to say things that might be said more concisely?
- Cut the obvious. There’s no need to include formalities like in this article, in this post, in regard to, I’ve always felt that, we are of the opinion that… You get the idea.
- Remove power words, cliches, and words pretending to be something they’re not.
- Trim word bloat. Sub in single words for phrases (some examples: sub although for despite the fact that; when or in for when it comes to; when or at times for there will be times when; remains for continues to be; and about or regarding for in regard to).
- Ditch adverbs unless they are necessary to adjust the meaning.
- Ditch weakling verbs in favor of stronger, ripped ones. Say rushed instead of walked quickly, say surged instead of increased fast.
- Create transitions between paragraphs. Good transitions greatly improve the feel and reader-friendliness of any work. Good transitions are like fine stitching, turning disconnected writing into a seamless whole.
- Draw natural connections between paragraphs. Again, don’t merely rely on high school transitions like however, thus, therefore, and so on. Instead, pick up an idea from the previous paragraph and connect it to an idea in the next paragraph. Here are great examples from Dickie Bush:
“So… what can we learn?”
“Let’s dig in:”
“Here’s what I mean:”
“Here’s where it gets fun.”
“This is 100% Wrong – and [person] knows this…
“Now here’s where it gets interesting:”
“How he gets you hooked is the second lesson:”
“And it all comes from a maniacal obsession on 1 thing.”
“And there’s a hugely important lesson here:”
“And when I say [characteristic], that’s an understatement.”
Here we are. I hope this got you at least slightly more excited about your next editing session.
Be cautious with this editing system – it might enable you to write way more effective pieces and have a lot more fun doing it.
Wishing you success,
Your friend Vahur
Whenever you’re ready, there are 2 ways I can help you:
- For Estonians: If you are an entrepreneur, freelancer or marketer and tired of poor results from social media, consider joining my Content Marketing Masterclass.
- If you’d like me to coach or consult you in private, I offer a 1-on-1 coaching program and a 1-hour consultation call. Learn more about my services here.